Bruce Stanton Taafe
- 530Wallaby Number
Bruce Taafe was an extremely mobile hooker whose general play was so exceptional that he could well have been selected as a back-rower. Unfortunately much of his representative career suffered due to a combination of injury and the presence within the Wallabies of the great Peter Johnson. Notably, Taafe’s rugby career is equally remembered for his decision, alongside six of his Wallaby teammates - Tony Abrahams, Jim Boyce, Paul Darveniza, Terry Forman, Jim Roxburgh and Barry McDonald - to stand down from possible selection against the touring all-white 1971 Springboks in protest at South Africa’s apartheid regime.
Born in Melbourne, but educated on Sydney’s north shore at Knox Grammar, Taafe will always be remembered by his school generation as a multi-sports star. Taafe played three years in both the 1st XI and 1st XV (the final two as captain). He was also twice selected as captain of the CAS 1st XV (1961-62). Taafe eventually burst onto the Sydney club rugby scene in early 1967 with outstanding performances for Gordon but then missed much of the rest of the season through injury. He bounced back the following year to earn a representative debut for Sydney against Lautoka at North Sydney Oval however Johnson, as the incumbent, was then preferred at both state and national levels.
Despite a lack of opportunity at those higher levels, and with Johnson not selected for the first time in a decade, Taafe was one of two hookers chosen for the 1969 Wallaby tour of South Africa. On the basis of his form in the early tour matches, Taafe earned a Test debut against the Springboks in Johannesburg. Sadly, fate dealt him a cruel blow when he injured his ribs at Ellis Park and Paul Darveniza was called into the team for the second Test. Soon thereafter Taafe snapped his Achilles tendon at training and his tour was over. In the final days of that tour, Abrahams wrote a letter to the editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. The letter, headlined ‘South Africa and Sport’, was published on October 8 and generated much discussion and opinion about the nation’s racial discrimination policies.
Upon the teams’ return to Australia the other six players agreed that while they were not political activists they had a ‘moral responsibility’ to oppose apartheid. In May of 1970 an opportunity presented itself to speak out. Geoffrey Robertson, the future Queens Counsel and international human-rights barrister, was also the editor of Blackacre, the journal of the Sydney University Law Society. Robertson invited the Wallabies to be interviewed about their time in South Africa. When asked whether Australia should send a touring team to the Republic again, Taafe replied, “I have to qualify all this a little. I could play against South Africa again, but only if I played against a team truly representative of that country. I would not insist on a change in the whole [South African] political structure, but I would insist on a democratic selection of team members, black or white, from all over the country.” He added, “Sport is such a big thing there that if we isolated them completely they would be forced to reconstruct the whole apartheid system.” “I’d love to say that Rox, Darv, Barry, Terry, and I got together and made a pact not to play,’ Taafe later said. ‘While we were all against playing, we hadn’t actually decided to make a joint stand and come out and say so. It took Geoffrey Robertson to put us on the spot, and once he did that, when he asked us in his Blackacre interview if we’d play against the Springboks and we told him we wouldn’t, there was no turning back.”
The article that resulted from the interview, ‘Political Football’, also published in The Australian (21/05/70), was a definitive catalyst for the organised opposition to the 1971 Springbok tour. The players then wrote to the Australian Rugby Union and confirmed what they had told Robertson: if selected, they would not play against the Springboks. Nonetheless Taafe played on and represented Australia in 1972 against the French. “I wanted to keep playing at a high standard even though I was on the outer, because I had a point to prove,’ Taafe said. ‘When the Whitlam Government cut ties with South Africa in 1972, I found myself back in the fold and was chosen to play a test. I had a good game in one of the dirtiest matches ever and even fell over the line to score a try'. Afterwards, ARU President Charlie Blunt congratulated me. I said, “Charlie, I didn’t play too badly for a guy who was never going to play for Australia again.”
‘The Rugby Seven’ as they had become known, were later be hailed as the ‘Magnificent Seven’ after it was recognised that a direct line could be traced from their actions, to the referendum that marked the end of apartheid in 1994. Their deeds were honoured when South African President Nelson Mandela bestowed upon them the Medal of Freedom.
Taafe won his first Test cap at hooker propped by Roy Prosser and Jim Roxburgh in the 1st Test, 11-30 defeat to South Africa at Ellis Park.
Taafe earned his final two caps alongside Prosser and David Dunworth in the two home Tests against France. He scored his first Test try in the 14-14, 1st Test draw in Sydney.