Nick Koster was the most talented school boy rugby talent I have ever seen among forwards, writes Mark Keohane. #RIP brother.
Koster is a rugby brother in every sense. The Bishops No 8 was at his brilliant best as a schoolboy and a junior Springbok and finished his career captaining Cambridge University as an Amateur. He spoke, in one of his last public interviews, about the joy of amateur rugby. He said it was privilege for him to finish his career loving the game as an amateur, just as he had started it as a bare foot eight year-old playing at 8am on a cold winter’s morning in the harsh Cape June.
Nick Koster was a sensation as a schoolboy rugby player. I’d been privileged, in the Western Cape, in my early years of rugby reporting to cover the schools beat in Western Province and Boland, which aligned with me covering the provincial and national beat.
Archie Henderson, iconic as a sport editor, and the late AC Parker, the inspiration to every young kid who wanted to be a rugby and cricket journalist, were disciples of ‘if you cover the national beat, you cover the provincial, club and schools beat’. These icons of the game felt that the easiest task was to report on and write about the Springboks. The challenge was to watch the schools and clubs scene and identify the next provincial and international sensation.
At worst, the next provincial and international selection.
The schools beat in Western Province and Boland was among my most favourite assignments in the early part of my career. I got to report on Percy Montgomery playing fullback for SACS, Herschelle Gibbs playing flyhalf for Bishops and Corne Krige playing flank for Paarl Boys High.
Others would follow, like Paarl Gym’s Jean de Villiers, De Wet Barry and Schalk Burger. There was Bolla Conradie from Kasselsvlei in Bellville South and Andries Bekker from De Kuilen and then Paul Roos.
Many wonderful players would translate their form from schoolboy hot shots to professional rugby player post 1996.
Pre the conversion to professionalism, there was Bishops and WP and SA Schools fullback Michael Ehrentraut. What a player in the junior ranks.
My disclaimer here is that I live in Cape Town and my school boy rugby exposure is primarily in this province. In today’s climate, with the fabulous Super Sport Schools channel, I have an appreciation of the nation’s best players.
In the past decade I got a taste of Damian Willemse, given his consistent explosiveness for Paul Roos. He was special as a schoolboy and will be as special as a Springbok.
But specific to forwards, since 1992, I had never witnessed a talent as natural, as brilliant, as explosive, as influential and as rugby bright as Nick Koster.
I wrote a feature article on the schoolboy Koster for the Weekend Argus in his matric year where I likened him to a combination of Bob Skinstad and Corne Krige.
He had scored 36 tries for Bishops in 35 matches, assisted in as many and would translate that to WP Schools and SA Schools. He would add Junior Boks to his resume, play for WP as a 19 year-old, and he would play for the renowned Barbarians against the Wallabies at Wembley the same year, slotting in as lock with Richie McCaw, Jerry Collins and Schalk Burger the loose-trio.
He would debut for the Stormers as a 20 year-old, with the then Stormers coach Rassie Erasmus picking him on the wing.
A cruel knee injury finished his season and – in hindsight – finished his career. He was never the same athlete; the injury was that bad.
He would play 26 matches for WP, 32 for the Stormers, 11 for Bath and 62 for Bristol. He was never the Koster destined for a 100 Tests after his injury, but his rugby brain was still strong enough to make him so good playing for Cambridge University, as an amateur in his final two years of rugby.
He retired an amateur winner, as he had started in his glorious schoolboy career.
His professional career had the most emphatic starts, for the Barbarians against the Wallabies at Wembley, and the most inglorious of chapters over the next decade. Professional rugby, as he said in an interview post his retirement, was not what he expected or what he wanted. It was not for him.
He left rugby, by all accounts, fulfilled and joyous at what he got to experience in his final two years at Cambridge.
#RIP Nick Koster – and thank you for those mornings at the Piley Rees and wherever you roamed the Cape in winter.
You were feared by the opposition, but so revered by those who feared you because you were that good and so humble.
You were the best 18 year-old schoolboy rugby player I have ever seen.