Siya Kolisi, John Smit, Bryan Habana and Jean de Villiers are among a host of Bok icons who have paid tribute to Annelee Murray in ‘The First Lady of Springbok rugby’, the book celebrating the 20-year journey of the beloved Springbok rugby public relations manager.
In a tribute to her, former Springbok captain De Villiers wrote that when he started his international career, he wondered who Annelee Murray was, but by the time he finished it – 109 Tests and 111 Springbok matches later – he knew she was as important to the team as the head coach.
De Villiers writes that Murray was the go-to person on all things related to the Springboks outside the actual playing of the Test match, and it is a sentiment shared by those who captained South Africa during her 20-year association with the team.
Murray has two World Cup winner’s medals, but it is the countless memories that define her journey with South African rugby supporters’ favourite sons. She has experienced the good, the bad and the ugly, but her journey is a celebration of Springbok rugby.
Many among the Springboks affectionately call her the ‘mother of the Springboks’ because of her protective nature and unconditional love and support of the players, and because of her competency and ability to get any job done. But she was also the First Lady of the Springboks and a pioneer in the previously exclusive male-dominated Springbok management teams.
Murray gives the reader an insight into her 20-year life with the Springboks that goes beyond the 80 minutes of a Test match and leaves one with a sense of having been on the journey with her that included five World Cup tournaments, 244 matches, seven coaches, 21 captains, six Test centurions and the welcoming of 248 Springboks.
Every one of these living captains and centurions has complemented Murray’s words with a tribute of their own, in a book that will make your understanding of and love for the Springboks even greater.
In the foreword, Smit describes Murray as “the all-seeing eye”:
“My Springbok career started in 2000 and when I met Annelee Murray I did not fully comprehend the importance she would play in my life and the lives of the boys in green and gold for the next two decades.
“Every Springbok who makes his debut is introduced to Annelee and one quickly realises that she is your lifeline in understanding where to be, at what time and in what kit. She is like the all-seeing eye and provides the guidance you need whether it is your first or your 100th Test match.
“Annelee found herself surrounded by a group of highly competitive alpha males but this never deterred her and she quickly became the matriarchal woman herding ‘her’ boys. She was always organised, knew what was happening, and had a solution to every problem, and she most certainly had a stern voice when some of her boys needed steering back into line.
“All these traits, coupled with a deep caring approach for us, ensured that she quickly became an integral part of the Springbok engine. And dare anyone have an unkind word or action against one of ‘her’ boys – the lioness would rear its head and sort out the guilty party immediately.
“It is hard to quantify the exact role and influence Annelee had on the Springboks over the almost two decades she was with the team as her role evolved from a job to becoming her family. I can only explain that no player has gotten married without Annelee being present as she became not only an important person to the player but to his wife/girlfriend too.
“Annelee always tried to make the guys’ lives as easy as possible and that sometimes meant creating a protective barrier around the team and absorbing pressures and stress so that the boys could focus on the job at hand on the Saturday. This sometimes meant dealing with girlfriends, wives, parents, friends, sponsors and fans.
“Her ability to sort things out effectively and efficiently made everyone’s lives in the Bok environment so much easier. I know that most people, including wives, preferred dealing with Annelee as she always knew what was going on.
“With almost 250 Test matches under her belt, Annelee became irreplaceable in the team environment, and anyone who has been part of this environment knows the importance and value she added.
“I don’t even think SA Rugby will fully understand how important Annelee was in the Springboks attaining their many achievements in her time with the team. While she might not have been physically present on the field, she deserved each win and carried the burden of each loss as if she were playing. I know that her time with the team has come to an end but her love for the boys in green and gold will never stop. It is in her blood.
“Thinking back on my time with the Boks, I can’t imagine it without Annelee there. She was always there to assist me in my role in the team and be a sounding board when I needed someone to listen to. Not only was she an incredible colleague to work with and someone I respected but she became a trusted confidant to both me and my family.
“It has been such a privilege to work alongside the First Lady of Springbok rugby who gave so much of herself for almost two decades. She is the godmother to my son, and most importantly, someone I call my friend.”