In memory: Jan Ellis

Jan Ellis personifies Springbok rugby, for me. It has been said that as humans we think in pictures. When we think of something we see a picture of some sorts and this picture can differ from one person to the next which is why we sometimes voice the same words but come up with different understanding or meaning. The best communicators are those who can create clear and vivid pictures in the mind of his listeners.

When I think of Springbok rugby I see Jan Ellis. Hard uncompromising, fast with a touch of artistic moodiness and flair but with relentless motivation to succeed based on a staunch work ethic and absolute conviction of what is right and wrong; that is Jan Ellis in a nutshell, for me. 

So I don’t see all that, I just, see pictures of Jan Ellis flashing through my mind (see the photo gallery I’ve created of Jan Ellis here).

The Springboks being Jan Ellis, for me, came along probably because I had so many pictures of Jan Ellis when I started with my sampling of rugby pictures in 1970.  I was born in Windhoek South West Africa (now Namibia) and Jan was SWA’s second springbok; the first being Sias Swart.

So Jan was bigger than life in SWA and could do nothing wrong in our eyes. In fact when he was dropped by the national selectors after 11 years and 38 consecutive test matches in 1976 my father stopped supporting the Springboks in the series against the All Blacks. “I hope they lose so that those damn selectors can put Jan Ellis back in the team” was his exact words.

Jan was not perfect he had some flaws like all of us. His biggest flaw probably his temper. ‘Vuilgat’ (dirty) Jan was so re-known for his short fuse that film-maker Jamie Uys even pulled a candid camera prank on Jan while Ellis was still living in Namibia in the early nineteen seventies. The camera crew mounted a car hooter against the pavement just a few paces from a traffic light which ‘Rooi’ Jan frequented daily on his way to work. Patiently they waited about 5 days for a red light to force Jan to stop long enough for a car to pull-up behind him. Three hoots had Jan looking annoyed and angrily over his shoulder at the innocent victim in the car behind. It took two more hoots to saw Jan storming out of his car, plucking the surprised little fellow out of his car and threaten him with a raised fist. Jan was on the brink of shoving his huge right paw down the little fellows’ throat when the filming crew intervened to safe the poor man who was pleading innocence at the top of his voice.

Jan didn’t thought it was funny and was not prepared to laugh about it -as most of us. Realising what transpired he turned around got in his car and drove off without saying a word.

There was also an incident during the 69/70 EOYT when Jan couldn’t take old Avril Malan’s insults and whinging (the team was struggling and Malan was giving it to them calling them gutless and what not) anymore. He packed his bags got into the train heading for the airport. It took some convincing and a promise by some senior players that they’ll keep Malan away from him to stop a fired up Jan Ellis to board a plane back to South Africa.

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