The Old Diocesan Issue5 Mar2020 - Page 41

from December 1992 is anything
to go by. “Never at Bishops have
we had such crowds to watch the
1st XV,” he wrote. “All who watched
took vicarious pleasure in the
magic web that they spun match
after match; it is possible that
some of us have seen such team
and individual skills before, such
understanding among players,
such perfection of rugby; it would
be good to meet such a person for
he must have been in heaven.”
Key to the success of the team
was that core, which unlocked tryscoring opportunities at will – and
in particular the Gibbs-Houghton
partnership. They conjured space
for those around them like wizards,
each with, in Basil’s words, “an
extraordinarily high rugby IQ”.
While Herschelle simply had to
choose which sport he was going
to focus on for national honours
after school, the consensus was
that captain Hilton had the rugby
world at his feet. Stormers coach
John Dobson (1985K) remembers
the regard in which he was held:
“Whenever Basil spoke of Hilton, he
described him as the best Bishops
centre since Peter Whipp (1967G).
Of several brilliant contenders, he
thought he was the best centre
he’d ever coached. He was
regarded as a future Springbok.”
But it was not to be. While
there are many off-the-record
conversations in the political
world of sports management,
Hilton is candid about his postschool troubles. “After being given
the best possible foundation and
every opportunity, I completely
cocked up my career – by smoking,
drinking and turning my back
on opportunities,” he says.
He stopped playing rugby
immediately after school, and
travelled. If, as we suggest in the
following article, some kind of
mentorship is vital for a young
sportsman’s success, you might
say he sought out the polar
opposite: while in the UK, he spent
time with actor and notorious
boozer Oliver Reed. Reed happened
to be a rugby fan with connections
to Richmond FC – but again that
was a playing opportunity lost.
“Old schoolmates, fellow players,
coaches tried to lure me back into
the game,” he recalls. “But I’d lost
my way.” When he did eventually
turn out for the UCT 1st XV in
his mid-20s, he was no longer the
player of old. “Twenty cigarettes on
the way to training doesn’t help!”
He recalls being “a bit bitter”
when he first saw Robbie Fleck
playing for the Springboks. “But
deep down I knew it was my
own fault that I wasn’t there.
Today, that bitterness has turned
to pride. I’ve worked with Fleckie
for many years, and I’m incredibly
proud of what he represented
for the school and what he did
for rugby at Western Province.”
The wheel turned in his late
20s, when he returned to Cape
Town and got a job in the film
industry, doing commercial work
for advertising agencies. It was a
humbling experience that taught
him discipline and responsibility,
and allowed him to finally take
opportunities in the sports world
when they appeared. He credits
Jacques Kallis, who he had played
against in school days (“a useful
10”), for giving him the break
through his agent Dave Rundle.
With his wife Kendra, he built
a reputation on sponsorship and
commercial work until he was
approached to work with rugby
agent James Adams. Finally, he’d
returned to what he knew best.
While Basil Bey had warned
Hilton before he left school that he
would need to adjust his attitude
if he hoped for sporting success,
he had also written presciently
about his rugby brain. He
described him as “a shrewd judge
of the game” and “an inspiration
to the others… what a fine job he
did as a leader and a tactician!”
Hilton (far right) with Eben Etzebeth, business partner Paul van den Berg, wife
Kendra, Cobus Wiese, Scarra Ntubeni and Siya Kolisi. Hilton and Kendra have
two children but, he says, “My son often tells me he’s one of 25 kids.”

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