Johan Claassen

I remember it like yesterday ... Potchefstroom's Mr Rugby, Prof. Johan Claassen, opens his garden gate in the retirement village. Despite his almost 86 summers, he still looks as upright and strong at a distance as the big rugby figure who has left deep footprints in SA Rugby. Western Transvaal player from 1950 to 1962 in a total of 105 matches. Springbok in 28 Tests from Lion Tour in 1955 to Lion Tour in 1962 in which he missed only a single Test. Springbok selector the following year. Springbok coach and convener of the selectors from 1968 to 1976. Junior Vice President of Sarfu. President of Western Transvaal for 21 years from 1977 to '98. Springbok captain in nine Tests. No one but no one but Doc Craven has served SA Rugby on so many different levels and with so much distinction. Everything from Potchefstroom. Except for a period of ten years at Yzerfontein and a year in the SA Army in Pretoria, Claassen has been a Potchefstroomer since 1950, for more than half a century. The dopper heaven town. Prof. Claassen still lives close to heaven. Only in Prince Albert where he and his two brothers, Ernst and Wilhelm, who all three played for Western Transvaal, grew up. Then in Potchefstroom. And then in Yzerfontein. Upon his arrival there, someone recognizes him and welcomes him at the gates of heaven! But he is back in Potchefstroom to be closer to his children. Berna Daley, the well-known Comrades athlete, is one of his three daughters and then there is Johan junior, who like his famous father wore the Western Transvaal lock jersey. His wife Ada carries tea and melts in - she does not look like a ripe 76 - and the prof bounces out of his chair like a young gymnast. After two knee replacements, the scars that rugby has left on him, his health is peaking. Like a rugby artist, he colors the stories of his rugby days, of what happened at the Springbok trials in 1956 that cost Salty du Randt the Springbok captaincy. And the one time when he himself met an opponent, David Marques of England, who with his knees in prof. Claassen's back dived, saw right. The enforcer at the Western Transvaal was usually a role left to his lock mate Stoffel Bosch. Jaap Bekker tormented Claassen in a match in '57 just when he wanted to jump and the Prof mentioned it to Bosch. Needless to say, Bekker was in dreamland for a while before making his return drunk. Prof hung up his toxins at 32 when a young Piet Bosman told him uncle. Then he decided enough is enough. But there was also a professional side outside of rugby to Prof. Claassen. He was a pitcher in Prince Albert, went to school in Christiana and in 1948 began studying Education at the Potchefstroom College of Education. After that he accepted a position at the Potchefstroom high schools Gimmies and later Volkies before he returned to the College of Education, held a brigadier position in the Army, and accepted an appointment with the Puk. The TV was on the Super Fight between the Chiefs and Hurricanes for a short while before he turned it off, but at rugby itself he does not come anymore. When he finishes a task, he makes a clean break. He said a few words at Harry Newton-Walker's funeral a year or so ago. And as he puts it, he now has more friends under the ground than above the ground. When he greets at that same garden gate, his handshake is firm and his kindness sincere. If there was a Hall of Fame among the Leopards, he was Number 1.  

Written by: Andre Bester.

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