Ronald Andy Macdonald
The honour of playing rugby for the Springboks was bestowed on relatively few Rhodesians andm fewer still in the tight forward role.
The ninth of May 1965, will always be a special day for Bulawayo fanner Andy Macdonald, for it was on that date that his name was announced in the Springbok team to tour Australia and New Zealand. For the twenty-nine-year-old front row forward it was a fitting reward for a long, dedicated and successful career.
Macdonald was unquestionably one of the most powerful forwards ever to play in the green and gold jersey of South Africa. With a superb physique and weighing in at a little over 107 kg, Macdonald was immensely strong and was feared as a scrummager by the best front row forwards in the South African provinces.
Born at Springs in the Transvaal, Macdonald was educated at Bulawayo atMilton School. Resident in Rhodesia from his early childhood he never considered himself a South African, making his debut for Rhodesia in 1957.
By the early'60s, Macdonald was an integral part of of the Rhodesian side and a powerful front row which included another man destined for Springbok colours, hooker Ronnie Hill. Among the other prop forwards that combined withMacdonald to give Hill superb support were Eden Holton, Bo Jutronich and Willie van der Merwe.
In 1962 Macdonald had the honour of playing in the Rhodesian side that beat the touring British Combined Services side 28-16 and later lost to Arthur Smith's British Lions 38-9. The following year Macdonald played against John Thornett's Wallabies and by giving his opposite number, Les Austin, a torrid time, helped Ronnie Hill to take the tighthead count comfortably although Rhodesia lost the match 11-22.
After the two Currie Cup matches in 1964, both of which Rhodesia lost, Macdonald was honoured with the captaincy for a long tour of South Africa which counted towards the Board Trophy competition.
Rhodesia lost to South West Africa but beat North Eastern and South Western Districts in Board Trophy fixtures before also going down to Border in a friendly. In these games the Rhodesian front row of Macdonald, Hill and Van der Merwe was highly impressive. Hill raking back 51 tightheads with only one against.
Macdonald by now had a reputation as the most feared prop forward in South African rugby, and when the mighty Transvaal team had visited Rhodesia earlier in the season the first question they had asked was as to whether Macdonald was playing.
Both Macdonald and Hill were rewarded for their efforts during the season by being invited to play in the Rugby Writers' XV against a Pirates Invitation side as part of the 76th anniversary celebrations of the Pirates Club.
The year also saw the visit of Michel Crauste's French team which proved too strong for Rhodesia by winning 34-11. Once again the Rhodesian front row of Macdonald, Hill and Van der Merwe proved their worth. Hill raking back 10tightheads without reply.
Political changes at this time saw the breakup of the Federation, and Northern Rhodesia became the independent state of Zambia. For Macdonald, these changes meant the end of his playing for Rhodesia.
Since the end of his school-days at Bulawayo, Macdonald had lived in the then Northern Rhodesia, leasing a farm from the Government. Macdonald's farm was about 90 km from Livingstone and his dedication to rugby was such that he would travel the 550 km every week to turn out for his Bulawayo Club, Old Miltonians.
In 1965 Macdonald was still able to play for Old Miltonians and he turned out for Rhodesia, who had a good season during which they beat the touring Pumas from Argentina, drew with the Northern Transvaal Platteland and then caused a sensation by accounting for the powerful Western Province team.
A Rhodesian Invitation XV played another three matches, two against a strong South African Invitation team. The first match was drawn 22-22 but the visitors won the second 30-14, despite the Rhodesians acquitting themselves very well.
It was surprising that Macdonald was the only Rhodesian to be given a Springbok trial but those who knew their rugby felt that the big prop's selection to tour New Zealand would be a formality.
Macdonald was duly selected but had his elation somewhat dampened by the attitude of the new Zambian Government who announced that he would face 'certain consequences' if he went ahead with the tour. Still working his government-leased farm, he was worried by the Zambian Government statement But not wishing to give up the ambition of a lifetime and urged to go by his wife, the Livingstone farmer eventually motored down to Johannesburg where he linked up with the remainder of the Springbok team.
It was a rewarding tour for Macdonald, although the Springboks lost both Tests against Australia and were beaten 3-1 in New Zealand. He played in five of the six internationals, missing only the second Test against Australia, when he was replaced by Hannes Marais.
The All Blacks were certainly impressed by the strength of Macdonald. who played at tighthead prop in the four Tests and the great New Zealand lock forward. Colin 'Pine Trees' Meads, was much impressed by his play.
Macdonald was mentioned in a book by Meads, entitled Colin Meads, All Black, in a chapter dealing with the greatest players the New Zealander had played with or against
Meads described Macdonald thus: "The Springbok, Andy Macdonald, was probably the most imposing physical specimen we have lined up against, a very good player and one of the great gentlemen of rugby"
Macdonald's Test rugby career came to an end after he returned to his Zambian farm. In a letter to his friends in New Zealand he explained that he had signed a statement that he would confine his future rugby to Zambia. In terms of this statement Macdonald would never play rugby for South Africa or Rhodesia again.
So this great player was confined to turning out for a club in Livingstone, admitting that it was not much fun because the standard was not very high.
Ten days before Christmas in 1966, Macdonald was attacked and severely mauled by a lion which had been taking livestock. After it had been wounded by his first shot, the lion leapt on Macdonald, who managed to kill it with a second shot, but not before it had landed on top of him, biting and clawing in its death throes.
Macdonald was taken to Livingstone hospital where he received more than 400 stitches and had a finger amputated from his right hand. He was able to leave the hospital on Christmas morning.
Meads also remarked in his book: "Andy was badly mauled by a lion when he went home after the 1965 tour — it would be a toss-up as to whose side I'd rather have been on."
A fitting tribute to the strength and courage of one of Rhodesia's finest rugby players, a fine sportsman on and off the field.
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