Dr Cecil ‘Doc’ Moss: a tribute to ‘true gentleman’ of rugby

06 November 2017 | Story Helen Swingler. Photos Supplied.
Springbok and UCT rugby icon, alumnus Dr Cecil ‘Doc’ Moss died on 27 October 2017. An anaesthetist by profession, the former winger was honorary president of the UCT Rugby Football Club.
Springbok and UCT rugby icon, alumnus Dr Cecil ‘Doc’ Moss died on 27 October 2017. An anaesthetist by profession, the former winger was honorary president of the UCT Rugby Football Club.

12 February 1925 – 27 October 2017

Springbok, Western Province and UCT rugby icon Dr Cecil ‘Doc’ Moss (92) died on 27 October, a day before his beloved Western Province won their 34th Currie Cup.

He was honoured with a minute’s silence at the final, which Province won 33-21. The team on the day, all wearing black armbands, fielded two former players from the UCT Rugby Football Club (UCTRFC), of which Moss was president from 1989 to 2003. The former Ikey players in the winning squad were centre and man of the match Huw Jones, who scored two tries, and winger Dillyn Leyds.

As a player, mentor, manager and coach at various levels of the game − university, provincial and national − Moss’s contributions to rugby won him huge respect. In their tribute, the UCTRFC described Moss as one of its “greatest servants and ambassadors”.

In his tribute, the president of the Western Province Rugby Football Union, Theo Wakefield, said that South Africa had lost a true giant of the game.

“Dr Moss was a true rugby man through and through, a gentleman of the game.”

In their memorial, Rugby365 (28 October 2017) said, “Cecil was far greater than all his achievements. You only had to listen to what his players said about him to know that and they were his players, for he took enormous care of all his players and in the greatest detail. You could not but love and admire such a man and [be] better off just for meeting him.”

Early years

Moss’s family emigrated from Lithuania to South Africa in 1909 when he was 13. His grandfather was appointed Rabbi in Calvinia and later Riversdale from where his parents moved to settle in Muizenberg. The young Moss attended the South African College Schools where he excelled – although he did not play for SACS 1st XV. At 15 in matric, he was too young!

A year later and just 16, Moss began his academic career at UCT. He joined the UCTRFC with Louis Babrow as coach in 1943 and was chosen for the UCT 1st XV. In 1944, aged 19, Moss interrupted his studies to join the war effort. He was a medical corporal in the Special Service Battalion of the 6th Division and, still passionate about rugby, was selected for the 6th Division’s tour to Europe.

After graduating in 1948, Moss went to work at the King Edward VIII Hospital in Durban and captained the Natal rugby team. In 1949, aged 24, the diminutive but inspirational winger played for the Springboks in a memorable series against the All Blacks in South Africa, the Boks scoring a 4-0 whitewash. (He was also vice-captain of the team.) Though these were the only four games he played in the Springbok jersey, he went on to coach the Boks during the 1980s.

Dr Cecil ‘Doc’ Moss shares an anecdote with former Springbok captain, Jean de Villiers. Moss was a Springbok in 1949 when the Boks won all four games against the All Blacks.

Doctor and anaesthetist

In Durban, Moss had met Jill Kalf and they married in 1950. After the couple returned to Cape Town, Moss joined Villager Football Club. When he wasn’t selected for the Springboks’ 1951 tour to the UK, Ireland and France, he concentrated instead on his medical practice.

He specialised as an anaesthetist in England and was later part of Chris Barnard’s pioneering team that performed the first heart transplant in 1967.

Twelve years later, he was the anaesthetist on the team that performed a minor procedure on former President Nelson Mandela (they removed an accessory bone from his heel), then a political prisoner on Robben Island. The operation is recorded in Mandela’s Conversations With Myself. But Moss had to be reminded of the fact by his great rugby friend and fellow UCTRFC stalwart, John le Roux.

In his memoirs, Doc Moss: My Life in Rugby, Moss writes: “I pleaded guilty. I could not argue with Mr Mandela’s memoirs. He was a charming patient. The truth is I had forgotten about this minor procedure at Woodstock Hospital. I’m not a political animal and would never have imagine[d] that Mandela would go on to become our president.”

Coach and selector

Though his years as a player were relatively short, Moss coached and managed Western Province from 1972 to 1992, including the Golden Years from 1982 to 1986, when Province won four successive Currie Cups. He was at the helm as coach at the UCTRFC from 1966 to 1974 and again in 1976. He coached and was a selector for the Springboks from 1982 to 1989.

Moss is survived by Jill and their children, Jamie and Tessa, and grandchildren, to whom the UCT community extends their sincere condolences.

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