Remembering a Wynberg Rugby Legend: Old Boy Doug Hopwood

Wynberg Boys' High School Heritage: Rugby Legend, Old Boy Doug Hopwood

Wynberg Boys’ High School Heritage: Rugby Legend, Old Boy Doug Hopwood. The cartoon above by the late Wynberg Old Boy Ginger Townley Johnson, appeared in the 1965 School Magazine.

Springbok No. 8 Legend, Wynberg Old Boy, Douglas John Hopwood, 1934 – 2002

The following article is a transcript of an interview with Doug Hopwood by sports journalist Norman Canale which appeared in Cape Argus Sport on Tuesday, September 29, 1998.


Hoppy, a modest Springbok legend

“It’s ironic that for a man born in a land of sunshine and braaivleis, his greatest rugby experience happened on a wet and muddy field far from home and in conditions so bone-marrow cold as to give even Eskimos the shivers.

Wynberg Boys' High School Heritage: Springbok Doug Hopwood

Old Boy & Rugby Springbok Doug Hopwood

Yet this is what happened to Doug Hopwood, acknowledged as one of the greatest No 8 forwards in the history of rugby football, who played 22 tests for the Springboks against every conceivable rugby nation in the 1960s and captained Western Province in 12 of 52 matches.

Picture a field so covered with water that the line markings were indistinguishable and that you had occasionally to have water poured over your face to enable you to see what was going on. Add to that a whipping, icy wind.

That was Cardiff Arms Park on December 3, 1960, where the Springboks played Wales.

At the end of 80 minutes of rugby’s version of the battle of Flanders Field, South Africa had scored one of their most illustrious test victories. And Hopwood had won the admiration of the 53 000 Welsh crowd and all the other 29 players on the field, friend and foe alike.

His storming game also attracted the attentions of scouts from prestigious Rugby League clubs like Wigan and St Helens who pursued him back home with cheque books at the ready.

Playing with the wind, SA led 3 – 0 at the break through a Keith Oxlee penalty. With the field a morass in the second half, and playing into the teeth of the wind, the Boks decided to keep the mud-covered ball among their great pack.

The tactic was for Hoppy to pick up at the back of the scrum and bullock ahead, the rest of the pack linking around him, using him as a battering ram.

Hopwood endured an agonising punishment but in the process he made it possible for the Boks to hold on to their slender lead and win.

I dropped in on Hoppy at his Plumstead home last week.

He retired as sales manager at SA Breweries in Newlands three years ago after 33 years service.

He’s been married to Veronica for 37 years and they have four children – Debra, 36, twins Sandra and Linda, 34, and Stephen, 30 – and four grandchildren.

Hoppy has had a bad back (caused by a spinal injury as a child and aggravated in that sacrificial Welsh test) and is unable to engage in active pastimes like golf, tennis or social cricket, a game he loved next to rugby.

“It’s tough,“ he sighs, “But my hobby of breeding tropical fish is a wonderful diversion.”

Still a giant of a man (he was 6ft 3in and over 200lbs in his playing days), black hair and moustache, Hoppy’s only concession to his 61 years is a pair of prescription glasses.

Doug is direct in his speech and opinions, but if he wore a hat he would have no trouble with his head size. He sidesteps personal aggrandisement as deftly as he did the best All Blacks and French defences as a skilful ball-carrier in his heyday.

He winced visibly when I pronounced that Zinzan Brooke reminded me of him in his glory days, and he quickly diverted the focus to Hennie Muller.

“Hennie was my idol; I would have walked on fire for him,” he practically gushed. “I actually played a club match against him when he was in his last playing year. It’s a memory I’ll always treasure.”

Did he rate that Cardiff Arms performance a rugby high?

“Yes, because it was the greatest pack I ever played with,” he said, “Sure, I took the flak up front, but I had legendary forwards rallying around like Avril Malan, Johan Claassen, Spiere du Toit, Hugo van Zyl, and Martin Pelser. They helped make it all happen.”

Until I reminded him, Hoppy neglected to mention that the buffeting his suspect back took had him in hospital for two weeks – and thereafter plagued him for the rest of his illustrious career.

I think it was French icon Pierre Danos who once said: “There are those rugby players who play the piano – and those who lift it.”

Doug Hopwood played it like Arthur Rubenstein.”

[ED: Doug Hopwood’s grandsons, Old Boys Dylan & Jarryd Sage and Brandon Wood each earned Wynberg 1st XV caps.]

Wynberg Boys' High School Heritage: Cape Argus Sport interview with Doug Hopwood

Cape Argus Sport interview with Doug Hopwood