In the 14th instalment of a series on black rugby legends, GARY BOSHOFF looks back at the career of former Western Province and Saru prop Omar Daniels.
Like so many of his contemporaries, Omar ‘Vleis’ Daniels was born and raised in District Six. In his case, it was in the ‘Dry Docks’ section of the famous neighbourhood. His parents were Amiena and Jassiem de Kock, but because he was raised by his grandparents, Aliyah and Samsodien Daniels, he took their surname.
Omar attended Lydia Primary up to Standard 4 (Grade 6) and then went to Trafalgar Junior School for a short period before moving to Bonteheuwel with his grandparents. They were some of the first families who decided to relocate under the threat of eviction from District Six. He was enrolled at Pioneer Primary School, where he eventually completed his education in Standard 6 (Grade 8).
Daniels was lucky to be raised in an area where rugby was one of the main recreational activities in the community. The Silvertree Rugby Club had three rugby fields, on which he would mingle with the juniors under the tutelage of coach Oupa Diedericks and Mr Freeman, who was the caretaker at the sport fields in the late- 1960s. However, it was at Pioneer Primary where he started to play competitive rugby as part of the primary school league, which featured schools from Athlone and some as far afield as Stellenbosch.
‘I recall the excitement when we would board the bus for our weekly rugby matches and the way my friends and I looked forward to those trips,’ he says.
When Daniels left school as a 14-year-old he had to find a job and stopped playing rugby. In fact, he acknowledges he became more interested in girls than playing rugby. He forged a very close relationship with his friends, Salie Baredien, Amien Diedericks and Brother Khan. It was only years later, at the age of 19, that he was persuaded to return to the rugby field.
It was Sedick Pretorius, uncle of Stormers No 8 Nizaam Carr, who in 1960 persuaded Daniels to come back to rugby and play for Silvertree RFC. He started out in the 2nd XV and gradually worked his way up in the club. Daniels’ friends, Diedericks and Khan, inspired him to train and motivated him to strive for excellence.
‘My friends, Brother Khan in particular, were also my biggest critics for not training hard enough,’ he says. ‘They came to fetch me every day so we could run up the hills in the area.’
In his first match for the Silvertree 1st XV (a friendly against Tigers RFC) he scored two tries and won the respect of the coach and his training partner, Khan.
‘It was a tremendous feeling to receive all the compliments and encouragement from the coach and my friends, it meant so much to me,’ he recalls. ‘It was then that I started to believe I was perhaps destined for bigger things in a rugby jersey.
‘I could play on both sides of the scrum and was privileged to have had the opportunity to learn from greats like Matthew Napoleon, Dullah Gameldien and Nazeem Toefy. My first outing in a Western Province jersey was in 1975 in Upington and later that year against Eastern Province in Port Elizabeth.’
Daniels became a regular in the WP side and a crowd favourite because of his ability as a ball-carrier. In 1982, after seven seasons in the SA Cup, he was rewarded with a Saru (South African Rugby Union) cap against a Saru Invitational XV at the Athlone Stadium, Cape Town. He got another cap in 1984 and retired the following year at the age of 34.
During his first-class career (1975-1985) he played in about 130 SA Cup games for WP, the only province he represented. He rates the 1979 SA Cup final, which WP lost against Kwaru (Kwazakhele Rugby Union), at the Dan Que Que Stadium in Kwazakhele, as his biggest disappointment.
Daniels heaps praise on Bruno Mbola, the Kwaru strongman, as the toughest opponent he scrummed against.
‘Bruno was a legend in his own right – I know of no one during my time who could out-scrum the man. He was immense.’
Daniels loves to tell the story about his trademark move, at the club and for WP, where close to the line he would shift to No 8 to pick the ball up behind the scrum and bulldoze over the line.
‘It was an awesome feeling to run with the ball, pick up speed and simply bulldoze the defenders over the tryline – I loved it,’ he says with a big grin.
LIFE AFTER RUGBY
After retiring from the game in 1985, Daniels coached the Silvertree 3rd XV for a year in which the team, despite earlier setbacks, managed to win the league. However, he decided to relinquish the role and became part of the Silver Ferns – a group of rugby veterans who travelled throughout South Africa and abroad – to play in a series of friendly matches.
He met Faheema through mutual acquaintances at the Silvertree RFC and has been married to her for more than 30
years. They have a son and four children from her previous marriage.
During his early years as an artisan, Daniels distinguished himself as a specialist cane craftsman and worked for businesses where he would lead the manufacturing team for cane furniture. In later years, he accepted a position as caretaker at a local school from where he retired a few years ago.
Daniels was a soft-spoken front-ranker who enjoyed his rugby and always had a smile on his face. But, as a rugby player, he will be fondly remembered for his riveting runs around the rucks, mauls and scrums, as well as his significant contribution to the successes of Western Province rugby between 1974 and 1985.
– This article first appeared in the May 2018 issue of SA Rugby magazine