August 5 - 1961 Don Clarke's remarkable kick

Don Clarke’s remarkable conversion in Windy Wellington saves the day.

The 1961 French side came to the 2nd test in Wellington desperate for a win to keep the series alive. But the Wellington weather made the match a greater test than anyone anticipated.

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Setting the scene.

“Never, surely, has international Rugby been played in conditions like these. To grace the occasion, the Wellington Rugby Union had had built, at a cost of about £150,000, a huge double-decker stand on what used to be the Western Bank. On the exposed upper deck which reached an enormous height at an alarmingly acute angle, spectators fought to their places as if they were attacking the great yellow band on the north-east face of Everest. On the southernmost section, which had only just been completed, spectators were told, so it was said, to take their seats at their own risk. Between this huge, ungainly and unlovely edifice and the old grandstand on the eastern side of the field, the wind roared with venomous sound. The goalposts bent and plunged in the gusts. A dank grey sky lowered over the ground. The scene was of unrelieved total gloom.

As the spectators gathered, 20,000 fewer than the anticipated crowd of 55,000, so was deepened the first impression of an Antarctic blizzard lacking only the ice and snow. Appearance meant nothing. Comfort was all. Men wore leggings and duffle coats, scarves wrapped about their heads, if necessary goggles to keep the wind from turning the match into a tear-stained spectacle. A photographer for Paris Match, one of the great illustrated weeklies of the world, emerged from the grandstand tunnel on to the ground covered from head to foot with windproof clothing, and as he plugged sturdily across the gale to the other side of the field he might have been one of Captain Scott’s men pulling at the sledge amid the merciless wastes of the Polar plateau.

In this wind, it was scarcely possible to hear anything, unless it were the complaints of those from outside Wellington at this specimen of Wellington weather most furious and vile. At times, too, a wild shriek, no sooner emitted than it was made eerie and ghostly by the wind, greeted the flights of felt hats which soared, swooped and bundled off heads down the field and some of which were chased by hopeful owners. Round about halfway, on the grandstand side, a Press photographer proved himself a Christian gentleman by dodging about after such hats as came his way and stuffing them into a large canvas bag.”

From ”Cock of the Rugby Roost” by Terry McLean. Pub. 1961 by A H & A W Reed. P.168-169.

The Conversion.

“But the real kick of the match was my conversion of Kelvin Tremain’s try for what turned out to be winning points. Let’s face it; at this stage I had to do something pretty spectacular, for I had missed two penalties from right in front and we had only just managed to hold the score at three all with the try.

The wind was roaring like a cyclone at my back as I placed the ball, aiming it at the far corner flag. I moved in and kicked it, watching in wonder as the wind flung the ball squarely between the uprights.

It would be nice to take the credit which I’ve been given for that kick, described by some as “the greatest of all”. (I might say that many of the same people had spent most of that grim afternoon saying how Athletic Park had a hoodoo on D. B. Clarke and that I had never kicked a decent goal there.)

No, that kick was an absolute fluke. No one could have judged that hurricane. As for the hoodoo theory, well I’ve kicked some good ones on Athletic Park, but none as lucky as that one.”

From :THE BOOT Don Clarke’s Story” by Don Clarke and Pat Booth. Pub. 1966 by A H & A W Reed. P. 101-102.

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