Herbert reaches magical 200th
by Sportal's Andrew Koopman
August 2, 2001

Vetran flyhalf Eric Herbert is an institution in the Bankfin Currie Cup competition and the Griffons side.

On Sunday the pivot reaches another milestone in his long career when he plays his 200th game for the Northern Free State outfit in their game against the Natal Sharks.

Having made his debut in 1986, the 36-year-old is the perfect example of a player who still values the amateur ethos of the game, unlike some of the modern players who are just in the game for the money.

Herbert was born and bred in Welkom and baring two seasons in 1994 and 1995 when he went off to play for Free State (38 games), he never went looking for greener pastures. He is a loyal servant of the Griffons.

On Thursday he expressed his happiness about his achievement. "I must say, it feels good. I never thought I would get there and it took a couple of years, but it's definitely something I feel proud of."

While Herbert is taking the big hits on the field, his peers are sitting in front of the box, enjoying a beer while watching the game.

What drives a man of his age to still play first-class rugby? "Ag, I still enjoy it. The big thing is I never stopped and tried to make a comeback, except for 1998 when I just played club rugby.

"In our days we never went to the gymnasium and we didn't have personal trainers. Last year I went to gym for the first time. Now I feel strong and fit, even stronger and fitter than when I made my provincial debut. I stayed fit through the years and I think I only got better over the years," offered Herbert.

He says he will make a decision about his future at the end of the Currie Cup season. "If it goes well I will play for another season, but it all depends on this season."

The friendly man, who is renowned as one of the best goal- and tactical kickers ever to play in South Africa, made his debut for Northern Free State in 1986, against Free State. Former Springbok De Wet Ras was the opposing flyhalf.

"I was very nervous, but fortunately things went well for me, although we lost 30-12," he remembers. But will there be nerves before his 200th game? "I hope not," he laughed, " I see the Sharks are sending a star-studded team. I had hoped they would keep their Springboks at home. However, we'll just have to play and hope for the best."

And to make his 200th game even more of a daunting prospect, his immediate opponent will be Butch James, the man who became notorious this year for his kamikaze tackling.

"He is the man with the crunching tackles ... I played against him last year in the Currie Cup so he won't be a stranger to me. I cannot be worried about him, though, and will just concentrate on my game."

Herbert said rugby was good for him and he has made good friends through the game. He added he never had any real disappointments. "I am truly thankful for what I've achieved, especially coming from a small place like Welkom.

"Okay, I never became a Springbok, although I must have been close, but it never really bothered me. I am just thankful that I never got injured badly and that I never had to undergo an operation for a serious injury."

In 1994 he went to Free State in an effort to get recognition at a higher level. "In the first year after leaving the smaller province for the bigger one, I played for the SA Barbarians, SA President XV and the SA 'A' team. I think that was my career highlight, playing for the SA 'A' side."

Herbert says rugby has changed a lot since he started out. Rugby in the old days was a lot harder and he remembers how tough-as-teak flankers like Gert Smal, Burger Geldenhuys, Pote Human and Robert Blignaut would break away from the set scrum to scar off any flyhalf with ideas of looking for a gap himself.

"These days loose-forwards must stay bound to the scrum and there is much more room for attacking play. The skill levels have improved and the guys are fitter.

"But contact is not such an integral part of the game any more as players want to keep the ball alive. The game is quicker, thanks to all the law changes."

Herbert says he will never become rich through rugby. "When I see how much the youngsters earn, I wish I was still 23," he quipped. "No seriously, I play for enjoyment and the money I earn is just a bonus."

Helgard Muller holds the record for the most appearances for a province with 245 caps for Free State, followed by another provincial teammate Chris Badenhorst.

Herbert is third on that list and with 1 369 Currie Cup points second to Naas Botha on the list of points scorers.

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