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Back You are here: Home Sports Rugby Skonk Nicholson- Wins In A Landside! Most Legendary Coach
Friday, 08 November 2013 00:00

Skonk Nicholson- Wins In A Landside! Most Legendary Coach

After one week of intensive voting to find the Most Legendary Coach in South Africa it became clear that there was one name that has captured the imagination and typifies what one would expect of a truly legendary coach.

 Enjoying over 63% of the vote, Skonk won the poll with a two thirds majority that would make any politician envious. Ironically coming in second spot was another Maritzburg College coach, Mike Bechet who managed to garner 24% of the vote, both Old Boy’s of DHS.

Indeed it is a testimony of the great tradition of school sport that South Africa can boast about their many dedicated coaches, that have not only sacrificed their time and energy to develop great sports people, but have also been able to develop great people.


Here is the history of Skonk – The Legend – Nicholson (6 February 1917 – 27 February 2011)

James Mervyn Nicholson (the Skonk came later) was born in Underberg, and grew up on the family farm in that district. His father was a great friend of the legendary DHS Head Master, Mr AS Langley, and so young Mervyn was sent tojamison DHS, rather than to Maritzburg College, which was also a family school.

He enjoyed a remarkably successful stint at DHS, and matriculated in 1935 in a blaze of glory: he was Head Prefect, captain of the First XV, the First XI and the athletics team, captain of the Natal Schools’ XV, and Senior Cadet Officer.

It was as a young standard five (grade 7) boarder at DPHSthat he earned his famous nickname of ‘Skonk’: the future Head Prefect of ‘School’, MCF Bennett, recognised young Nicholson’s spirited nature, referring to him as ‘Skonkwaan’, which was the name of a bull on the Bennett farm in Mooi River, meaning ‘tent-peg’. This was in due course shortened to ‘Skonk’, and so it remained.

Having completed his studies cum laude at the erstwhile Natal University College (NUC) in Pietermaritzburg, Skonk served as an instructor (sergeant-major) during World War II, before being demobilised out of the SA Army in 1944 due to injury.

Much to the disappointment of the redoubtable Head Master of DHS, Col ‘Betsy’Martin MC (himself an Old Collegian), Skonk was in that year sent to Maritzburg College, where he for the next two generations taught Geography and coached the First XV (1948-1982).

Indeed, in 1944 the youthful Skonk found himself the subject of a heated dispute between Col Martin and the equally pugnacious Headmaster of College, the famous Mr JW ‘John-Willie’ Hudson, who also wanted to enjoy the services of the talented young master. “Boy!” the redoubtable John-Willie boomed at the youthful schoolmaster, “you are staying at College.”

And so it was. Under Skonk’s leadership, College came to be one of the rugby powerhouses in SA, producing

10 unbeaten First XVs and a further 12 that lost only one match, and countless Natal and SA Schools’ players during his 35 seasons at the helm.

Nearby to the Kent Pavilion at College, overlooking Goldstone’s, stands the Nicholson Arch, which was erected in 1982, the year of Skonk’s retirement. It is a cherished tradition for each First XV player, as he steams onto the pitch, to reach up and touch the apex of the arch, in mute tribute to College’s own legendary ‘Mr Rugby’.


The Final Vote Standings:

coach poll

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