I’d just arrived in Australia when I first met Dan Vickerman at a coffee shop in Canberra. It is no stretch to say that our meeting changed the course of my life.
I was in the midst of an agonising decision. Should I leave my country of birth to begin a new life in Australia, or should I remain in South Africa to build a future there?
Dan was perhaps the best person I could ever hope to put such a question to.
A few years earlier, he grappled with the same conundrum before shunning the comfort of home in exchange for adventure and challenge. I liked him immediately.
“It will be extremely difficult, people will call you a traitor, people you thought were your friends will desert you.”
Vicks was never one to mince his words and I knew his refusal to sugarcoat any aspect of immigrating had my best interests at heart. He was that sort of guy and I soon learned to trust him implicitly.
To the outside world he was a scowl-faced giant. The hard man everyone loves to play with and dreads lining up against. Dan was that guy, but he was so much more than that.
He was highly intelligent. So much so that he was determined not to squander his intellectual faculties on lineouts and mauls. When the news broke that he would trade Wallaby gold for Cambridge blue I was enormously impressed, but not the least bit surprised.
Married to his obvious smarts was a true love of irony. Vicks had a way of inserting his dry, almost dark sense of humour into the unlikeliest of situations.
In 2004, moments before kickoff, Eddie Jones tapped me on the shoulder. “Dell’s done his hammy in the warmup, you’re starting.”
Just as I was gathering my thoughts Vicks marched over and put his massive hands on my shoulders. “Clyde, this is a huge opportunity. Whatever you do, don’t stuff it up.”
That was all he said, the tiniest hint of a grin creeping out the side of his mouth. I could only laugh. It was classic Vicks – we all loved him for it.
Just as my career was coming to a close, I received a call from a Cambridge old-boy. Would I be interested in attending the hallowed institution? Another crossroad on life’s journey, another call to my friend.
Vicks is gone now and there will be no more calls to pick that massive brain in that massive head. What remains is a vast and inextinguishable collage of memories. Memories of a great man gone too soon.
Daniel Vickerman had a rich life. He experienced incredible triumphs, painful defeats, all in-between. He sought adventure, embraced challenges, and maintained a rare blend of integrity and humility throughout. He loved, and was loved by a great many people.
He will not be forgotten.
Here’s to you Vicks,