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Cry of ‘Syddie, Syddie, Syddie’ still not forgotten

  • Sport22June amended
As I watched a replay of the second Test match between the Springboks and England last Saturday night, I was stunned to hear the announcement of a minutes silence for Syd Nomis, who had died earlier that day of a heart attack.
by JACK MILNER | Jun 21, 2018

He was one of the Jewish Springbok minyan and, for many, he was the greatest.

Nomis was one of the Boks’ greatest wings, although he was first selected to play as a centre, which he did in his first three Test matches played for South Africa.

Nomis played in the days when communication was not as geared up as it is today, so when he made the team in place of John Gainsford who had played 33 Tests, he heard it first on the radio. Being the gentleman Gainsford was, he sent Nomis a telegram which read: “Like I’m sad, man, like I’m glad, man. Congratulations. Have a great game.”

Nomis went on to play in the next 25 Tests, and was on the winning side in 19 of those matches, while two of them were drawn. Nomis scored six tries, including two against Australia at Ellis Park in 1969. His first Test try was against the British and Irish Lions in 1968.

Two of his tries are still talked about today. His try against France in Colombes in 1968 was described by rugby administrator Danie Craven as one of the greatest of all time. The Springboks were leading 11-6, and the French were running everything. The French were on the charge, but they dropped the ball, and Nomis picked it up, and kicked it into the French 22m line.

Nomis raced after it and, as he was clear, the French stopped trying to run it down. But, as Nomis got close to the ball, he was hit by cramps, and could not get up.

Never-say-die-Syd started to crawl to the ball and suddenly, the French realised they could save the try. They charged after it, but Syd reached the ball first and crawled over their try line to score – just in time.

The second was against the All Blacks in 1970 in the first Test at Loftus Versfeld. The visitors attempted a long pass, but Nomis intercepted it, and charged right across the field to score. It was one of South Africa’s most memorable radio commentaries, as Afrikaans commentator Gerhard Viviers accompanied his progress with cries of “Syddie, Syddie, Syddie” as Nomis scored under the posts.

Nomis was the ideal wing – fast, courageous, determined, and totally dedicated to his team.

He was inducted into the Jewish Hall of Fame in 2000. The ceremony took place in Israel during the 2001 Maccabiah. At the same time, South Africa were playing a Davis Cup tie against Israel at Ramat Hasharon, and I was in Israel to cover both events.

The South African team, the Nomis family, and I ended up at the same hotel, and we spent some time together. On the middle Saturday, when there is no play in the Maccabiah, Nomis and his family came to watch the tennis, and I organised a ride on the players’ bus to the stadium.

The players, who included Neville Godwin and Marcos Ondruska, took to Nomis immediately, and we had great fun on the bus. We were also in the middle of the Tri Nations Rugby series, and were due to play the All Blacks on that day. A few days earlier, I asked Nomis who he thought would win, and he said, “They are going to give us a big klap.”

I was working for the South African Press Association (Sapa) at the time, so I sent back a story about Nomis’ induction into the Jewish Hall of Fame, and included his comment on the upcoming Test against New Zealand.

As Sapa sent its copy to all the newspapers in South Africa, Beeld decided to run the story on Page 1 with a big picture of Nomis with the comment. “Syd: Ons gaan a klap kry” was on posters all over town.

Early that morning, Nomis received a call from Springbok Coach Harry Viljoen, who had a full go at him for his remark. As we climbed on the bus to go to the tennis stadium, he turned to me and said, “Did you land me in the kak?” I had to handle a string of (good humoured) expletives from him the whole day.

Needless to say, he was right about the result. South Africa lost 3-12 at a wet Newlands.

In 2010, while on holiday visiting his son in Switzerland, he developed a blood clot in his left leg. In a Zurich hospital, he got a leg infection which turned gangrenous. The doctors were left with no option but to amputate the leg above the knee. Despite the setback, the smile was still on his face whenever you met him.

A year later, a benefit was organised in his honour which was attended by all the rugby greats and many members of the Jewish community.

His relationship with former player and commentator Hugh Bladen was legendary, and the pair had many stories about their exploits, most of which included an abundance of alcohol.

Sydney Harold Nomis was born in Johannesburg to Joseph and Mae Nomis. His father was a dentist. He went to school at Marist Brothers College in Observatory. He left school and joined Wanderers in Johannesburg. In 1964, he was first chosen for Transvaal, and played for the team 54 times until he retired in 1973, scoring 26 tries.

He is survived by his wife Annie, son Gary, who played for Transvaal at Craven Week, and daughters Joanne and Romy, who both played hockey for South Africa at the Maccabi Games, two grandsons and two granddaughters.

1 Comment

  1. 1 selwyn scher 21 Jun
    You never mentioned the stiff arm tackle from Mcormick 
    which left him minus a few teeth but he went on to finish the test.There was also a feeling that Syd brought Jewish luck to the team .
    A Great Jewish Sportsman
    Yiye Zichro Baruch

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