Obituary: Keith Oxlee

KEITH OXLEE was one of the men who led South African rugby out of the doldrums at the end of the Fifties and helped to re-establish the Springboks as the top side in the world.

Having drawn the Test series with the 1955 British Lions 2-2, the Springboks were beaten 3-1 in New Zealand in 1956. Two years later they lost a home series for the first time in their history, 1-0 with a game drawn, against the French.

By the time Wilson Whineray's All Blacks landed in the Republic in 1960 an upsurge in fortunes was being demanded of the home side. The reaction from the selectors was to pick 10 new caps for the one-off match against Scotland and then a further six for the first of four internationals against the All Blacks.

Among the second wave of new recruits was a 23-year-old outside half from Natal with a reputation for being an attacking genius. By the end of his 19 cap, record-breaking career, Oxlee had also become renowned for his goalkicking exploits.

The Springboks were facing an unprecedented fixture list at the start of the Sixties with four Tests against the All Blacks and then five more internationals on a 34 match tour of the UK, Ireland and France, all within eight months. It was make or break time for the Springboks. The team came through with flying colours, winning two and drawing one of the four Tests against New Zealand and then beating the Home Countries before drawing with France. Oxlee established himself as a master tactician and one of the best outside halves in the world.

Perhaps the best player to assess Oxlee's abilities is John Gainsford, the man who played alongside him at centre for the Springboks in all his 19 international appearances. "People have always associated Keith with the running game and the magnificent part he played in fostering it. I disagree with them to a point," Gainsford said.

Where Keith showed his true value and greatness was when the going was tough and his side was under pressure. You would see them coming for you, and you knew it was going to be rough. But when you had Keith there as your outside half you knew that all would be well. I played next to him in all his Tests and I can vouch for his courage and commitment. He took the knocks and he never gave me anything but clean ball. He would rather take the heat than pass it on to his team-mates. That for me was the mark of greatness. He was the finest I ever played with."

Oxlee scored two of his then record five tries for a South African outside half in that 1960 series victory over the All Blacks. At that stage of his career the man who revolutionised Natal Collegians and Natal sides with his thrilling, daring style was not seen as a recognised goalkicker.

All that changed later in the year when he found himself pressed into emergency duty at a rain-soaked Cardiff Arms Park against Wales. With his regular kicker Dick Locyker ruled out through injury, the Springbok captain Avril Malan tossed the ball to Oxlee and hoped for the best.

Amid 50 mph gales, he missed with his opening two kicks before landing his third shortly before half-time. It proved to be the only score of the game and helped to launch a whitewash of Home Unions in the Test series.

Over the next five years Oxlee hoisted his Test points tally to 88 to smash Gerry Brand's record of 55 that had stood for 24 years from 1928. Even today he lies in fifth place on the Springboks all-time scoring list.

In 1962, Oxlee broke the Springboks' record for the number of points in a match, as well as the hearts of Arthur Smith's British Lions, when he kicked five conversions and two penalties - earning 16 points - in the fourth Test as the tourists were beaten 34-14 in Bloemfontein. That record stood until 1981 when Naas Botha scored 20 points against New Zealand in Wellington.

But many remember Oxlee's feats against the Wallabies at Ellis Park in 1961 as his finest hour. Some 60,000 fans gave the master a rousing standing ovation when ambulance men helped him from the field after a spectacular final-minute try that bumped the home score up to a record-breaking 28- 3.

Oxlee had taken a succession of heavy knocks but had refused to leave the field. He received stiches as early as the fourth minute for a nasty gash above his eye and towards the end of the match was in such a daze that he had to move to centre. Lesser players would have hampered their team's cause by remaining on the field in such a mess but Oxlee's instinctive genius prevailed throughout the match and he was the architect of wave after wave of creative attacks.

Keith Oxlee was a supremely fit sportsman throughout his life. Following a rugby career spanning 1955 to 1971, in which he made 102 appearances for Natal, he went on to complete two Comrades Marathons - 52 miles from Durban to Pietermaritzberg - and became an accomplished lawn bowler.

Rob Coles

Keith Oxlee, rugby player and chemical salesman: born Johannesburg 17 December 1934; married (one son, one daughter); died 31 August 1998.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Metallica are heading for the Main Stage at Reading and Leeds Festivals next summer

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain's daughter Frances Bean Cobain is making a new documentary about his life

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp

TV Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' near to camp

Arts and Entertainment
TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches