Professor Johan Claassen, who has died aged 89, was a prominent figure in South African rugby for more than four decades as a Springbok player, captain, coach, selector, tour manager and long-serving executive member of the South African Rugby Board. He was also held a university chair in Bible Studies.
Claassen wore the green and gold Springbok jersey 56 times, 28 of those in Tests, between 1955 and 1962, and captained his country on nine occasions. His great All Black rival, Colin (“Pine Tree”) Meads, described Claassen as “a tremendous player, one of the best I ever played against”, though he added: “He was a dour bugger.”
Dr Danie Craven, the most important figure in South African rugby in the second half of the 20th century, said of Claassen: “South Africa never had a better lock.” He was never dropped.
The president of SA Rugby, Mark Alexander, said Claassen was “arguably the best line-out forward in the world in the late 1950s and early 1960s”. He formed a powerful second-row partnership with Sandy du Rand.
Johannes Theodorus Claassen was born on September 23 1929 at Prince Albert in the Western Cape, at the foot of the Swartberg mountains on the southern edge of the Great Karoo desert region. He had two younger brothers, one of whom, Ernst, became a Junior Springbok, while the other, Wilhelm, would captain Western Transvaal.