A rugby legend has passed.
Matthew “Nappy” Napoleon, front-row hardman of the Seventies peacefully passed away at his home. He leaves wife Karen and family.
A true legend before the tag was devalued in modern parlance, Napoleon was a stalwart of the SA Rugby Union and SA Rugby Federation. His numerous caps for the WP Federation are testimony to his talent and ability as a player. Nappy was awarded Springbok colours upon the amalgamation of South Africa’s rugby governing bodies in 1994.
In an era when props were the hardmen of the game, enforcers of justice and platforms from which play was launched, Napoleon shone. His mobility, strength and uncompromising style of play were hallmarks of his game.
Yet, as tough as his on-field persona was, the off-field Matthew epitomised the essence of rugby. Friendly, warm, funny and kind, he never ridiculed nor denigrated anyone and involved all in his company.
Testimony of Nappies strength of character is the fact that he is acknowledged as the first player of colour to cross over the WPRFU, when he joined False Bay RFC in the mid-Seventies. In a move which on the one hand may have been viewed as treason, he immersed himself in an environment where he stood out for what he was. Yet he stood tall and made his mark at his new Club, where he played First XV with distinction.
Matthew was awarded Honorary Life Membership at False Bay RFC in 2013.
His involvement at the club did not end upon his retirement from competitive rugby. He played a major role as a False Bay Crock, where his club ambassadorship continued, contributing to False Bay’s efforts to make friends across the broader club rugby spectrum.
In any review of a former rugby player, it is difficult to properly capture his value to a team, that dynamic only properly valued by those who shared the pitch with him. It is in the recollection of his team-mates, that the player is appreciated.
Tributes poured in for Nappy on the Bay’s various chat groups, from taking a young eighteen-year-old Craig Wilson under his wing as he faced the best in the Grand Challenge to Aubrey Poggenpoel’s fond memories of their time in the WP Federation team. Common to all acknowledgement were his humility and kindness, the ultimate recognition for any human being.
Matthew Napoleon, gentleman, kind sole, enforcer-on-the-pitch and involver-of-others off it, has left the building. The building seems eerily empty now.