Gerard Peters, one of the best rugby centres in South Africa, has died at the age of 75.The almost faultless SARU centre who played rugby during the 1960s and 1970s is fondly remembered as the silky skilled, creative midfielder, who was a hugely popular figure among players and supporters and was praised as a coach and a sports journalist, after his playing career. He could create gaps in the defence with his mesmerizing sidesteps off both feet and it was a sight to behold as a he raced off to score a try. At one stage he held the record in SA of scoring four drop goals in a match! He was also a prolific goal-kicker.
Peters was a quality human being who will be mourned by many and missed by all. He was born in Cradock and was sent to Cape Town to study for his senior certificate (matric). He was enrolled at Oaklands High School, where he showed great potential as a valuable attacking player in the midfield, under the coaching mentor, Norman Abrahams, ”Ta White.”
At Oaklands High, Peters was a team mate of heavyweight centre partner, Maurice Heemro and the prolific left-footed, goal-kicking flyhalf, Keith Lentoor. Abrahams pushed the ethos that running rugby was winning rugby. Their mode of attack was that the ball had to be run at every opportunity. Oaklands High School won the school league championships in 1962 and 1963, defeating the unbeaten Hewat Training College.
In 1962, the trio joined Lansdowne RFC in the City & Suburban Union, where they were partnered by the speedy and agile scrumhalf, Joey George (Gatiepie), who was a difficult player to contain. The wings were Patrick “Ysterman” Peters (Gerard’s) brother) and Sammy Afrika while the fullback was John Barlow. This was the most consistent backline at City Park and also the most formidable. Lansdowne at that time was the first team in their history who had three members in the 1967 SARU team.
Between 1964 and 1971, Petersgained 102 caps at centre for Cities and was selected for the SARU team in 1968. Perhaps his greatest moment playing for Cities, came as part of the Cities team that pulled off a historic win over Western Province 9-8 in Johannesburg in 1967, the only time in the history of Cities, to win the much coveted Rhodes Cup.
Cities representative side had been a dominant side in the Rhodes Cup competition for many years and was known as the Union that came close without triumphing. But the window remained open until that historic victory in 1967. Western Province had stamped their authority on the game from the start in 1898, when they won the first ever Rhodes Cup, to become the most envied and respected union, first in the old SACRFB and later in SARU, when they became the first conquerors of the SA Cup, which replaced the Rhodes Cup in 1971.
Ironically enough, Gerard reversed this great victory in 1972, when as a Roslyns RFC player, representing Western Province RFU, he scored the winning try against his former union at City Park. He represented WPRFU on 24 occasions and he replaced the legendary Cassiem Jabaar as vice captain in 1972, for the SA Cup final against Kwaru, at the Athlone Stadium. In the SARU national team, he was partnered by Danny Adams at centre, who was the vice captain. He later replaced Danny Adams as vice captain to the great lock, Salie Fredericks.In 1972, he was nominated as Sportsman Of The Year for Western Province RFU.
He will not only be remembered as an outstanding rugby player who also left his mark at an auto dealer for over 30 years. After his playing days, he emerged strongly as a coach and team manager. In addition to his work as an excellent rugby administrator, he has made a name for himself as a rugby and tennis correspondent for the Cape Herald, Rapport and the Sunday Times newspapers
After unification, he helped the Violets rugby club with coaching. Peters was a friend, and a wonderful, humble person. As a youngster my friends and I were thrilled with Peters’ rugby skills and we imitated his side steps. My friend Eddie Kruger even adopted Gerard’s way of walking! We all wanted to be like Gerard. Before the time of cellphones, he used the public telephone (tickey box) in the cafeteria on a Saturday night to call match reports and scores to the Sunday Times and Rapport newspapers. He also coached Westridge RFC, managed Cities, loved tennis, was a man of God a true champion and a role model.”
Peters is survived by his wife, Rachel (68), and five children, Michelle (48), Morné (45), Gerard jr. (41), Etienne (39) and Barry-John (38).
Russel Michaels is a former sports reporter for the Cape Herald, The Cape Argus and other publications.