Rolling Inspiration interview with Morné du Plessis
Morné du Plessis was born in Vereeniging, Gauteng, matriculated at Grey College in Bloemfontein, then attended Stellenbosch University in the Western Province. After his first year of rugby at Stellenbosch Morné was chosen for Maties’ first team, and was later selected at lock for Province’s U-20 team. Morné was selected to the Western Province rugby team in 1971 and was eventually appointed captain. His 103 matches as captain for Province is still a record today. He is a former South African rugby player often described as one of the Springboks’ most successful captains. During the five years from 1975 to 1980 that he served as captain, the Springboks won 13 of 15 matches, giving Morné an 86.66% success rate as captain.
“I was very honoured to represent the Springboks from 1971 and was selected as captain in 1975. In 1980 I retired from rugby.”
In 1995, Morné was appointed Manager of the SA national rugby team, which won the 1995 Rugby World Cup. “This was a great moment for our country and I was immensely proud to be part of such a great winning team.”
Morné has remained involved in sport having been the co-founder with Professor Tim Noakes of the Sports Science Institute of South Africa in Cape Town. He is also the director of Remgro Sport Investments, as well as an Academy Member, and on the Board of Trustees of the Laureus Sports for Good Foundation.
Morné has contributed in numerous ways to the game that he played. Apart from co-founding the Sports Science Institute, he established the Chris Burger Fund in 1980, which he still chairs.
“The injury and subsequent death of my teammate Chris Burger motivated me to start the Fund. It was a very emotional time and fellow players and I felt compelled to put something in place to help future rugby players and their families who might find themselves in a similar situation.”
Now called the Chris Burger Petro Jackson Players’ Fund, Morné’s organisation raises funds for the financial support of seriously or catastrophically injured South African rugby players and aims to create education to reduce injuries in the sport. The Fund established a 24-hour toll-free helpline for access to emergency response services in cases of serious rugby injuries.
“Together with my Board of Trustees, we have a huge responsibility to our donors and sponsors, including SA Rugby, to make sure we spend the money entrusted to us not only in a responsible manner but also in accordance with our constitution. We oversee the effective administration of this.”
Morne’s duties include daily contact with the Players’ Fund’s office and management staff to keep them updated on all fund activities and progress.
When asked how many of his former rugby friends are still involved with the Players’ Fund, Morné gave a nostalgic answer.
“Thirty-five years down the line, sadly some have passed away and others have retired from active duties with the Fund. My deputy chairman, Frikkie Naudé is the only remaining original stalwart.”
Morné and the Chirs Burger Petro Jackson Players’ Fund have their ambitions going forward. “We are committed to continuing our rugby safety programme, which was launched in 2009 and that we see is already making a significant difference to serious rugby injuries. The next 35 years for the Players’ Fund are just as important for us. By injecting new, energetic and young blood into the organisation as we recently have done, will hope to ensure that we are able to carry on what we started in 1980.”
A touching story of philanthropy from Morne’s past 35-year’s involvement with the Fund is that of former trustee Boy Louw, also a legendary Springbok from the 1920’s era. “Louw was deeply touched by Chris Burger’s death. In spite of being 74 years of age at the time, he immediately volunteered his services. He quickly became the best “ticket salesman” in a ‘Guess the jersey number that matches one of your famous Springboks at a cost of R2,00 per entry’,” explained Morne. “Oom Boy walked the streets of his hometown Paarl and sold tickets to anyone he encountered. His loyalty to the Fund was inspirational to everyone.”
Despite his all-consuming business commitments, Morné is a small plot farmer of olives, wine and vegetables in Riebeek Kasteel. He is married and has two sons and a daughter. According to Morné there’s no reason not to find time to do something. “I occasionally play golf and the rest of my spare time I reserve for my grandson. I don’t think I’d ever be able to retire 100 percent.”
Morne’s special message from the Player’s Fund:
“Like QASA, we don’t want new members but at the same time we realise that accidents do happen and are committed to being there for the brave young rugby players who have suffered spinal cord damage.”