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A heritage still close to the heart

Day to remember ... NSW's 1937 win is one of the proudest moments of the Waratahs franchise.

Day to remember ... NSW's 1937 win is one of the proudest moments of the Waratahs franchise. Photo: Fairfax Archive

THE Waratahs' South African, halfback, Sarel Pretorius, like most new fathers, is thinking a lot about his origins these days.

Tomorrow, on the same day his first child, Sarel Joshua, turns two weeks old, the 28-year-old will play a pivotal role in his side's must-win clash with South African conference leaders, the Bulls, in a game commemorating one of the Waratahs' proudest moments, their 1937 win over the undefeated Springboks.

That must be almost too much heritage for one proud young South African to bear. But Pretorius is relishing the opportunity to play for the other side this time and to measure himself against 22 of his fiercest countrymen.

Historic day ... NSW's 17-6 win over the South Africa on June 19, 1937.

Historic day ... NSW's 17-6 win over the South Africa on June 19, 1937. Photo: Fairfax Archive

''There's something extra [in a game against the Bulls],'' he says. ''When I was back in South Africa playing for the Cheetahs it was always a big game playing against those big unions and always a big rivalry against the Bulls. It's always nice to measure yourself against them and especially now that I'm with the Waratahs. I'm also looking forward to speaking a bit of Afrikaans on the field maybe.''

Pretorius will not be the only Waratah with South African heritage on the pitch tomorrow night. Chris Alcock will return to the starting openside breakaway position after recovering from appendicitis and will be needed against the ferociously physical men from Pretoria, the heart of South African rugby.

Unlike Pretorius, who spent all his life in a proud, Afrikaaner-dominated farming region outside Johannesburg before arriving in Australia with wife Nicola last year, Alcock has been here since he was 10. His family, like many South Africans over the past 20 years, left their home in Durban, on South Africa's lush north-east coast, to make a new life in Australia 12 years ago.

Dual nationals … Chris Alcock and Sarel Pretorius.

Dual nationals … Chris Alcock and Sarel Pretorius. Photo: Steve Christo

''I thought it was one big holiday, I was that young,'' Alcock says. As a rugby-mad schoolboy he supported the Sharks and the Springboks, but mostly because it was expected of him.

''The main reason was my friends said no matter what I was a South African, so if the South Africans won I got shit for it and if they lost I got shit for it, so I said if I'm going to get that then I might as well support them,'' he says. ''But eventually they let it slide and I'm now allowed to support the Wallabies - and the Waratahs, obviously.''

Alcock still has an audible South African accent and is dating a woman who was also born in South Africa but who, like him, has spend most of her life here. He loves going back to Durban and is proud of his heritage but feels more Australian than African these days.

''I like to think my South African roots are my family and friends over there,'' he says. ''That's my connection to Africa. Obviously it's a beautiful place but my roots are my family and friends. So as long as I've got family and friends there I'll always be connected to it.''

Tomorrow's match, dubbed Heritage Night on the Waratahs' season calendar, celebrates the 75th anniversary of the downing of the Boks, the 1937 game that brought the South Africans's undefeated tour of Australia to a sodden, sliding halt under teeming rain at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Australians celebrated a Springboks defeat as much then as they do now.

But the reality is that South Africans have made a rich contribution to the Waratahs over the years. Aside from Pretorius, Alcock and Test lock Dan Vickerman, who joined the club after returning from Britain last year, Tiaan Strauss stands out in the history books.

The dual international lock had played 15 Tests for the Springboks before coming to Australia to play league for Cronulla in the mid-1990s. He joined the Waratahs in 1998, just after the game turned professional in Australia, and went on to captain the side, be named NSW player of the year, and notch 11 Tests for the Wallabies. It was a remarkable career that paved the way for many other men to ply their trade in countries long regarded as fierce rugby rivals.

Pretorius says his stay in Australia has been a tremendous learning curve. Asked why many Australians regard South Africans as the most arrogant among their sporting foes, he laughs and says: ''I think we think so of them as well.

''I think the main thing is sometimes it looks like the guys are arrogant but they are just full of confidence,'' Pretorius says.

Sarel Joshua might be wrapped up in his cot when his father takes the field tomorrow night. But Pretorius and his wife are determined their son will learn all about his father, their family and his own heritage.

''He is born in Aussie but I think he will know where his roots are,'' Pretorius says. ''I will take him back after Super Rugby and show him a bit of South Africa. He'll grow up learning Afrikaans, that's our home language, we speak Afrikaans in the house. But it's always nice to have a good second language, so he'll have English too.''

As far as heritage goes, there might be a pint-sized Waratahs jersey in his cupboard one day.

But probably never a Wallabies one.

Rugby Internationals 2014

Round 1
Sat, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 18 vs TGA 18 Report Stats
FJI 25 vs ITA 14 Report Stats
NZL 20 vs ENG 15 Report Stats
AUS 50 vs FRA 23 Report Stats
Sun, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 47 vs WXV 13 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 29 Report Stats
USA 6 vs SCO 24 Report Stats
CAN 25 vs JPN 34 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Sat, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 15 vs ITA Report Stats
FJI 45 vs TGA 17 Report Stats
NZL 28 vs ENG 27 Report Stats
AUS 6 vs FRA Report Stats
Sun, 15 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 38 vs WAL 16 Report Stats
CAN 17 vs SCO 19 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 23 Report Stats
USA 29 vs JPN 37 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Sat, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
ARG 19 vs SCO 21 Report Stats
FJI 13 vs SAM 18 Report Stats
JPN 26 vs ITA 23 Report Stats
AUS 39 vs FRA 13 Stats
NZL 36 vs ENG 13 Report Stats
Sun, 22 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 31 vs WAL 30 Report Stats
USA 38 vs CAN 35 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Sun, 29 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 55 vs SCO 6 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Sun, 02 NovTimes shown AEDT
BAR 36 vs AUS 40 Report Stats
USA 6 vs NZL 74 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Sun, 09 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 24 vs SAM 13 Report Stats
ENG 21 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
WAL 28 vs AUS 33 Report Stats
FRA 40 vs FJI 14 Report Stats
IRE 29 vs RSA 15 Report Stats
SCO 41 vs ARG 31 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Sun, 16 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 18 vs ARG 20 Report Stats
ENG 28 vs RSA 31 Report Stats
WAL 17 vs FJI 13 Report Stats
SCO 16 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
FRA 29 vs AUS 26 Report Stats
Mon, 17 NovTimes shown AEDT
IRE 49 vs GEO 7 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Sun, 23 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 6 vs RSA 22 Report Stats
SCO 37 vs TGA 12 Report Stats
IRE 26 vs AUS 23 Report Stats
WAL 16 vs NZL 34 Report Stats
ENG 28 vs SAM 9 Report Stats
FRA 13 vs ARG 18 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Sun, 30 NovTimes shown AEDT
ENG 26 vs AUS 17 Report Stats
WAL 12 vs RSA 6 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
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