SA Rugby magazine caught up with former Springbok, Vodacom Bulls and Boland hooker Dale Santon.
Growing up in apartheid South Africa, Santon dreamed of representing his country internationally in rugby. As he explains, it was something that was unlikely at that point of South Africa’s history.
‘My proudest moment was becoming a Springbok in ’97. I was selected to tour the UK under Nick Mallett. That is a dream come true for any player. Growing up in the ’80s, there was a better chance of a black or coloured guy falling pregnant than becoming a Springbok.’
As a young player, Santon played for the Western Province Sacos schools team and captained the Emerging Springboks side, also coached by Mallett, that played against the British & Irish Lions in 1997 in Wellington.
‘We played a midweek team captained by Jason Leonard,’ Santon says. ‘We got a hiding, I don’t remember the score [it was 51-22]. We underestimated them. I think we only had one day of preparation. It was raining on the Monday we were due to train, so we only had a 40-minute get-together to go over our set pieces. They were together for three months. We were a talented team though.
‘I would have loved to spend a bit more time with them after the game, but they had to go back to Cape Town. It was a lekker experience and an honour to play against them. I still have Martin Johnson’s jersey.’
Santon would go on to represent the Springboks four times and was part of the 2003 World Cup squad.
‘We had the Kamp Staaldraad thing but I would say that wasn’t so bad. If we had won the World Cup, every team in South Africa today would have done a Kamp Staaldraadt. Even the Australians did training with the Navy Seals. The team was a bit too young and inexperienced. Especially if you look at England at that time. The same guys would play in 2007 and win, after they had gained a bit of experience.’
Provincially, while he grew up in Cape Town and made his senior debut for Western Province, Santon become a legend in the Boland region, playing over 120 times for the Cavaliers between 1996 and 2003.
‘I had good coaches in Nick Mallett and Rudy Joubert. Boland, for me, was a feeder for the big provinces. There are Boland players in every province. It is unfortunate that we can’t keep our players. I am a Capetonian but people think that I am from Paarl or Wellington. It is thanks to Nick that I went to Boland when he became coach there. It was a great experience, playing with salt-of-the-earth people.’
A move to Pretoria to play for the Bulls followed and he played on a dual-basis for them and the Cavaliers. Santon decided to hang up his boots in 2004, but has no regrets when looking back on his career.
LIFE AFTER RUGBY
Santon has been a member of the SA Rugby Legends Association since his retirement.
‘I am very grateful for the Legends. It was founded by John Allan and Gavin Varejes. They give retired players a soft landing, keeping them involved in the game after retiring. It helped me so much because I got very frustrated on Saturdays not being able to play.
Together with the association, he started Vuka Rugby, a program aimed at developing rugby in underprivileged areas.
‘I was working at Irvin and Johnson as a recruitment officer when I went to my hometown in Mitchell’s Plain to conduct coaching clinics. I noticed that there were 18 high schools and 48 primary schools but only two played rugby.
‘So I spoke to the Legends and told them that we can’t just keep doing clinics. We need to start a league. So I came up with the name Vuka, which means “awakening”. With Gavin’s approval, we started with 63 schools in the Cape Town area.
‘It has just grown. Today we have 600 schools involved nationwide – 30 000 kids from non-traditional rugby schools playing rugby every Wednesday.
‘For me, this is my passion. I don’t see this as work. I see it as passing on the passion for the sport. I owe rugby a lot. I don’t know where I would have been today if it wasn’t for rugby.’
Santon is going into the 25th year of marriage to wife Vanessa. They have three children, daughters Tarryn-Lee and Meghan and son Dale junior, and a grandaughter named Chelsea – apparently named after the English football team. The family enjoys visiting Cape Town’s West Coast, as well as braaing and road trips.
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Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images