Kaulback relives Rugby World Cup experience

HARARE - Former Zimbabwe Rugby World Cup star Pete Kaulback reckons there is no greater motivator for a sportsman than playing for your country and teammates at the highest level of the game.

Kaulback was part of the Zimbabwe team that debuted at the 1987 World Cup.

The then 24-year-old winger, together with an array of emerging local talent, battled it out in various centres across News Zealand and Australia, including the hallowed grounds of Eden Park.

Zimbabwe was competing at the global rugby showpiece at the invitation of the International Rugby Board, chosen as one of 16 countries from among more than 110 rugby playing nations.

The call came against a backdrop of an inspiring 1985 season in which the Zimbabweans had been on a rebuilding exercise through local and overseas tours.

Back then Zimbabwe was welcoming touring sides in the form of Scotland, Spain, Portugal, Swansea and the Soviet Union, the later then said to be the fastest growing of the emerging rugby nations in the world.

“It was fantastic going to New Zealand. That’s the Mecca of rugby. Just the inclusion was fantastic,” Kaulback, who is father of current Zimbabwe Sevens player Graham, tells the Daily News.

Zimbabwe opened their account at the World Cup against Romania at Eden Park.

The Romanians had been hugely expected to put the Africans to the sword, but the game turned on its head with Zimbabwe taking an early lead through Kaulback.

The gutsy wing fielded a high kick, chased after it, collected the ball, dummied one way and offloaded to Richard Tsimba (now late) to score in the corner.

Zimbabwe led 11-3 at the interval but some lapse defending at the dearth saw Romania sneak home 21-20 winners.

The Sables then played Scotland in Wellington.

The African side showed grit and determination with Andy Tucker and Mark Neil fighting like tigers at the mauls and rucks before losing out 21-60.

The newspaper headlines the next day summed up story “Scots fail to dent Zimbabwe’s dignity.”

Battered and bruised, but still with their pride intact, Zimbabwe travelled to Auckland for their last match against France.

The French ran the Zimbabwean defence ragged to finish 70-12 winners.

Yet, the Zimbabweans who played the better part of the second half with 14 men after using up their replacements, duly found themselves at the receiving end of more praises.

Not least was Kaulback whose try against the run of play received an ovation.

“I was very fortunate that my teammates set me up and I dived over for a try.  It was an awesome experience,” Kaulback recalls.

“I was able to exchange my Zim rugby tie with the captain of All Blacks Wayne 'Buck' Shelford.

“I still have his tie in my cupboard to this day. That’s what rugby does. It creates friendships that transcends through time. You can’t get higher than that.

“Here we were a tiny nation with only eight clubs to choose players from, rubbing shoulders with legends in the game,” says Kaulback.

“After the World Cup a lot of youngsters started to come through. That would be my first and last World Cup.

“I still played club rugby for Banket, had great experiences there, until I hung my boots, when I was about 29. I then went into refereeing until 2012.

“I’m still involved in the game, through Sevens franchises and as part of the organizing committee for the local Summer Series.”

The former Mashonaland Country Districts wing is flattered that his son is carrying the Kaulback legacy in Zimbabwean rugby.

It is no surprise that his eyes light up when he talks about Graham, who has become chip off the old block, having represented Zimbabwe at both Sevens and XIs.

However, injury has sidelined Graham for the past 14-months, but Pete believes his son will emerge stronger from the setback.

“But I believe Graham is a better player. His been to so many places that I never went, he has played in New Zealand, he also coaches Hellenic,” he says.

“It’s just that he is coming off lengthy lay-off and only started practicing this week, but he is still keen to make the Sables.”

Kaulback however, admits the level of commitment by the current generation of players is unlike in his heydays.

“The enjoyment is gone,” says Kaulback. 

“Back in our days we played for the jersey. We played for our mates next to us. Now it’s all about the money,” he says.

Born in 1963, Kaulback first earned his stripes playing fullback and centre at Chaplin High School in Gweru before moving to South Africa to complete his high school education at Michaelhouse.

It was however at the University of Natal when signs would tell that Kaulback was destined for greater heights.

The utility back’s performances would win him selection into the Pietermaritzburg Under-20 side as well as the feeder side for the Natal Sharks.

He would later return to Zimbabwe, picking up his rugby career with a stint with Karoi before turning out for Old Hararians and helping them win the league in 1987.

“Although we didn’t have big numbers then, the quality was right up there,” he says.

A farmer by profession, Kaulback would go on to make the 1987 World Cup squad,  joining such gifted players as Richard “Black Diamond” Tsimba, Andy Ferreira, Eric Barrett and Craig Brown.

Kaulback, who is currently a project manager at Carswell Meats, would like to see referees being accorded more respect.

“Look, change comes with education. I would like to see players respecting referees.  It’s a voluntary organization.

“When I was a ref I used to have a saying ‘I had to pass my ref exam with 80 percent, why can’t you just pass the ball’.”

*Additional info by Zimbabwe Rugby Centenary 1895-1995.

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