Legendary former Namibian and Springbok loose forward Jan Ellis has died from cancer at the age of 71. Both the Namibian and South African Rugby unions have expressed their deep sadness at the passing of the ginger-haired and likeable lad from the Cattle Country (Gobabis).
The one-time joint record holder for the number of Springbok caps succumbed to cancer at a hospice in Pretoria on Friday after suffering from the disease for some time. He celebrated his 71st birthday in January.
Populary known as the "Boer from Gobabis" (Gobabis farmer) during an illustrious playing career with the "Biltongboere", as the Namibian Rugby XV was affectionately known among rugby fans in the 60's and 70's, the rugby icon easily ranks as the most sucessful athlete and export in the history of the oval ball game locally. He was doubtlessly an all-time Springbok great, while he can be described as one of the most outstanding loose forwards of his era.
Ellis who has a rugby stadium named after him in his home town Gobabis, played in 38 tests for the Springboks between his debut in 1965 and his final test in 1976. Many rugby pundits believe had he played in the professional era, his 12-season career would have resulted in a century of test appearances.
"Our condolences go to Jan's family and his friends," said Oregan Hoskins, president of the South African Rugby Union. "Jan Ellis was one of the greatest Springbok loose forwards of any era. He was one of those unbelievably tough Springbok forwards for which our country is renowned. He was a fixture in the Springbok team for more than a decade and will be fondly remembered by the older generation."
Ellis was born in Brakpan in South Africa but moved to South West Africa (Namibia) as a toddler. He was schooled at the popular Wennie Du Plessis High School in Gobabis and as a raw-boned, ginger-haired youngster, won selection for South West Africa and earned a place at Springbok trials, having played at lock against the visiting British and Irish Lions in 1964.
He earned his first cap with the Springbok tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1965, making his test debut in the first of four tests against New Zealand in Wellington at the fairly young age of of 22 and never lost his place in the starting line-up until his 34th birthday.
Ellis was an obsessive trainer whose amazing pace and high level of fitness saw him scoring seven test tries, including a phenomenal 32 in the 74 appearances he made in all Springbok matches. He made his final appearance in a 16-7 win over the 1976 All Blacks in Durban, equalling Frik du Preez's record of 38 Springbok test appearances. However, tragedy struck when the former Namibian golden boy was shot in an armed robbery in Pretoria in December 2000, and since then his health had been deteriorating.
Jan Ellis is survived by his wife Heila, a son and daughter and five grandchildren - one of whose wedding he attended on Saturday, prior to his untimely death.
New Era Sports salutes this son of Omaheke (the Sandveld). May his soul rest in eternal peace.