David Barends – from Elim to Bradford
David Barends was one of only a small group of non-white South Africans to play rugby league in Britain. He was born in the town of Elim, a small village near Cape Agulhas in the Overberg region of the Western Cape where community life strongly centred on the Moravian Church. A part of the Boland rugby community, Elim with early clubs such as Rock Roses, is a traditional rugby town. At the beginning of the 20th century, the regional clubs which included Caledon Pirates, and Progress of sister-town, Genadendal, played under the auspices of the Caledon Rugby Union which was succeeded by the Southern Rugby Union, an affiliate of the then South African Coloured Rugby Football Board.
David learned his rugby at primary school and further refined his skill at nearby Emil Weder in Genadendal, one of the few black high schools in the rural Western Cape rural at the time. He moved to Cape Town after finishing school and joined the Progress Rugby Club under the City & Suburban Rugby Union and according to the available information also represented the latter union as a winger in interprovincial competition. After a period, he left to join the Roslyn club under the Western Province Rugby Union which he represented in the Rhodes Cup competition. On the 24 August 1970, he made his debut for the elite squad and national team of the South African Rugby Union, the successor of the former SA Coloured Rugby Football Board. Their opponents, in what was billed as the “Fifth Test”, was the African Springboks of the South African African Rugby Football Board in terms of the racial designations of the time. These tests were used as an alternative to full representative honours since apartheid prohibited the inclusion of black players into the all-white Springbok-side under the South African Rugby Football Board and who regularly played against the national side of other countries.
Barends’ debut test, coincided with the tour of the 1970 All Blacks - the first which saw the inclusion of Maori’s. The played at the Green Point Stadium in Cape Town was arranged to showcase the quality of Black rugby to the New Zealand visitors. In addition it was planned for the All Blacks to be introduced to the players before the game. Further, Dr. Danie Craven and the Cape Town-based Springboks of the SA Rugby Board were invited to attend the game.
In order to facilitate this process, the Department of Community Development gave permission for White South Africans to attend the game. Tickets for this encounter therefore went on sale at Logans Sports shop in Cape Town for Whites and at the Green Point Track for Coloureds and Blacks. The All Black team, however, never turned up. The SARU’s side won the encounter by 17-6 with David Barends who afterwards was to leave South Africa to play professional rugby in England, scoring two famous tries.
Through the collective efforts of Ivor Dorrington and Leeds sports promoter, Jim Windsor, Barends was able to join Wakefield Trinity for a sign-on fee of £1000 sterling. After scoring two tries on debut, his place in the league ranks was assured allowing him to settle down and in the end, spent three seasons at the club while refining his game and polishing his craft. Having served time with his first club, he contracted with York RLFC. After another four productive years, he signed with Bradford Northern in 1977. During this period, he made 202 first class appearances and scored 70 tries to establish him as one of their most potent and iconic players and was suitably rewarded in 1979 with selection for Great Britain in the series against Australia. David Barends in the process became the first player not of British origin to play for the Lions. He played 16 times, including the first two tests against Australia, and scored 10 tries. Although the Lions were successful outside the test matches, Australia won the test series 3–0. David’s debut was in a 35–0 defeat in the first test in Brisbane, although he did have a try disallowed. He also played in the second test in Sydney, which Great Britain lost 24–16.