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The Birth of a Legend: Percy

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Percival Colin Montgomery is on the cusp of becoming more than a great Springbok rugby player, but rather a South African legend.

If all goes to plan this year, Percy could end his Springbok career as statistically the greatest South African rugby player, if not sportsman, of all time.

And Saturday may just be the first step towards ending his career in iconic style.

He is already the highest points-scorer of Springbok history, sitting at 654 points, a full 342 points ahead of Naas Botha.

He has won two Tri-Nations with the Springboks in 1998 and 2004, the only Bok to have been there twice, and he was also the fullback during the world-record 17 unbeaten Tests from 1997 to 1998.

He has also won a Currie Cup-winners medal three times, with Western Province in 1997, 2000 and 2001.

What’s left for the celebrated fullback?

He is nine caps short of Joost van der Westhuizen’s record 89 caps, and only two trophies elude him, namely the Super rugby title, and the big one, the Rugby World Cup.

Saturday may just see the completion of goal one, if Monty’s Sharks sides can hold out the Bulls.

The Springboks are set to play seven Tests ahead of the World Cup, and if they go to the Final that will be another seven Tests. Monty will need to play iin 10 of these 14 to hold the record.

And with his superlative Super 14 form which has left any supporters of upstart-Francois Steyn speechless, one wouldn’t bet against Jake White banking on the sturdy goalkicker and defender as his starting number fiftenn throughout the year.

Only having to rest a game or injury will stand in his way.

But Monty has not always had things his way.

At one stage he was so unpopular with South African crowds that he would be mercilessly booed by home crowds at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria.

He was heavily maligned as part of the Cape cabal so dominant during Nick Mallett’s era, and he quickly fell out of favour at the end of Harry Viljoen’s reign.

After the dust had settled on that stormy era in Springbok history, new coach Jake White brought the player back from Newport, Wales to be his starting fullback, and, with his one-step kicking action generally demonstrative of a sharper, and harder style of play, Montgomery has become the most reliable fullback in world rugby.

And now Saturday is poised to be the beginning of a year of destiny for the Springbok dynamo.

Simon Perkin the South African College School (SACS) rugby master, who, along with legendary Springbok fullback HO de Villiers oversaw the boy genius’s rugby tuition, remember’s watching the maestro play for the first time at the primary school of SACS.

Monty was a boarder at the historic Cape Town school, which is nestled under the imposing Devil’s Peak.

“It was obvious even then that this was a real talent.

“I had been teaching at Rondebosch Boys’ High,” Perkin continued,” when I moved to SACS and became Monty’s coach when he was under 16. I then coached him for four years.

“Ho de Villiers used to help me with the backs, and him and Percy became real kindred spirits. If there is such a thing as a sixth sense, then HO and Percy could communicate in that sixth sense.

“HO is not the type of guy who will say of a young player, ‘This guy’s got it,’ but with Percy he was quite categorical.

“Percy just had amazing flair and sense of space. He was superb on the counter-attack, which is probably something he has lost a bit with a decline in pace.

“But he still throws those long passes which were his trademark as a schoolboy.

“Percy played two years of Craven Week for Western Province, captaining them the second year. In both those years he played South African schools.

“He also played provincial waterpolo, and would have made South African schools had it not been for a rugby tour we had gone on.

“He has always kept in touch with SACS. He has never let his successes go to his head, and he has always retained his old mates.
“He has always just been Monty.

“And seeing him as a father, it is clear that he has grown up to be a fine human being.”

Perkin also reflected that Montgomery had been by no means an academic, that his favourite subject had been first break, and his next favourite second break.

He also remembered that out of all the schoolboy rugby players he had come across, none of them had worked as hard at his rugby as Percy.

Percy, along with Andr’ Joubert and HO de Villiers, forms part of a triumvirate of legendary fullbacks.

Perhaps the fact that Percy was mentored by the great HO attributes to some of his success.

HO doesn’t see it that way.

“I wouldn’t say I was influential upon him. I taught him a little bit of what I had learnt, and I also learnt a great deal from him.

“The guy had a lot of talent, and a lot of natural ability. He was also incredibly quick, and I always thought he would have had as distinctive a career if he had played wing.

“He has been a great Springbok and it will be a sad day when he retires.

“When I first him, I told him that I don’t profess to know it all, but what we would do is mix some of my ideas with some of his, and he was always very keen to listen, and very dedicated. Rugby was his obsession and that, I guess, i swhat is required in the professional age.”

Perkin noted that one of the chief qualities of Montgomery has been the fact that he seems to play each game as if it were his last.

This year promises to be the year Monty does pull on that green and gold for the last time, and this weekend, when he runs out a Shark in the bid for that first taste of Super rugby glory, Percy will know that he is walking with Springbok giants.

And no matter what the year holds, we all realise that we have witnessed the career of a player who enthused those who watched him with blinding natural talent at first, and then finally with a mature blossoming of grit and the guts to overcome obstacles in the unending bid for Springbok, and for rugby, greatness.

By Chris Waldburger 365 Digital

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