August 7 - 1965 South Africa v Waikato

The 1956 Waikato side had startled the rugby world by beating the Springboks in their first match in New Zealand. Nine years later, could the team from Mooloo country do it again?


7 August, Hamilton: David (XOS model) versus Goliath (XXOS). That was the way of it. Just before the battle reached halfway. David struck. 3-0. Soon after it had begun again, David struck again. 8-0. It was absurd. It was fantastic. It was wonderful. Thirty thousand for whom David was the star screamed pleasure, pride and anticipation. This could be ‘56 all over again.

Then Goliath, mighty Goliath, began to roll. When Mr Millar blew his whistle to bring the contest to an end, Goliath had 26 points, David only 13.

It was sad. But it was no wonder. David’s forwards averaged 14 st 8 lb. Goliath’s averaged 15 st 13¾ lb. The effect was that even in the early stages, when everyone was fit and fresh and revelling in the brilliant sun, the calm air, the firm pitch, Goliath at the scrummage had only to straighten his leg and David was propelled backward, at speed.

There were four heels against the head to Gol— (let’s have done with this nonsense), to the Springboks in the first half, an encouragement and inspiration, if you like. Were they utilised? Eliza Doolittle, kindly answer that one. Except for a couple of puckish plays, one of them a long throw from Schoeman to Roux to Truter, who for want of real speed was hurled down just short of the goal-line by Catley, everything about the Springbok attack was safety first. Barnard banged the ball up the touchline. Everyone, everything, proceeded by rote and number.

Everything would have been unutterably dull had not Dav— had not Waikato displayed the character of the true little man, the tigerish terrier rushing about the field, biting, snapping, running with inexhaustible energy. Begbie, Pickering, and Guest, the loose-forward contingent, raced upon the ball at high velocity and anything in the way, big or little, was brushed or knocked aside. Clarke, until he suffered hurt, held his own against Botha at the lineout and Wright and Porima were pretty vigorous, too. The longer the game lasted, the more one felt inclined to dwell upon the strange New Zealand tendency to belittle a player and, having done so, to refuse to concede the possibility of his improving his techniques by experience, the greatest of all teachers. The cause of the wonderment was Pickering. From brilliance and, almost certainly, over-praise as a boy, he had proceeded into the All Black team of which lost to the Lions because, so it was said, he missed a tackle. (So he did; but he had the company of 14 other inefficient tacklers that day.) In the next year, in South Africa, it was contended he wasn’t sufficiently tough to be an All Black forward. Having been so written down, he was allowed to disappear. Yet today he looked a capable, shrewd, well-versed player, much too good to be thrown on the dust-heap.

At Pickering’s try of the second half, the 30,000 spectators let themselves go with such delight that one’s mind immediately relived the scenes of 1956, when Rugby Park with its trees and its weird assortment of seating, was far removed from the splendid wide-open field of today with its concrete grandstand and its multitude of terraced seats. Much had changed between then and now. The procession in Hamilton city this morning was long and well-staged and some of it, especially the notion of a Pipe Band wearing faded football jerseys, was very funny. The crowd which watched it was, as in 1956, large and reasonably vocal. But not today, during the procession, during the match preliminaries with Mooloo, the ancient cow which identifies the spirit of the Waikato, during the match itself, was one gripped by the tension of 1956 when at the first encounter between South Africa and a New Zealand team every man, woman and child in New Zealand seemed to be urging the Waikato team to victory. The more things change, the more they are the same, so it is said. But much had changed about Waikato Rugby.

Despite the fierceness of Pickering and his comrades in the pack, despite the speed of Johnson at centre and the vigour and diligent backing-up of Wells on the left wing, Waikato today lacked the singular quality—utter resolution, in attack or defence—which had brought off the sensational victory of 1956. In defence today, Kemp and Catley in midfield flew through the air and came to earth sans Springboks. Catley, an exceptional tackler, failed with all efforts except that which brought Truter down before he had reached the goal-line. Catley had but lately recovered from a bout of mumps. Only a fortnight before the match, he had been ill in bed. In the circumstances, he should surely have been on the touchline, not in the team. That hole in midfield seemed horribly wide….

It was the hole which encouraged the Springboks, once they realised that if they did not get cracking they would suffer the fate of their forebears. Much encouraged by the spectators, who later in the game became partisan in their barracking against the Springboks, Waikato charged to the attack. The Springboks’ first attempts at scoring were restricted to efforts at penalty goals by Mulder. Mans tried a long dropkick from a mark and Naude with a 50-yarder penalty put it just under the bar. It took the ‘Boks 28 minutes to mount a proper passing rush, from which Mans was thrown out in the corner. Meanwhile, Begbie was charging all over the place and made a vigorous break from a lineout to within a yard of the Springbok goal-line. Waikato kept attacking in the last minutes of the half and when Porima and Begbie headed a rush, the ball came to Johnson, who drop kicked a splendid goal. Mans missed a 35-yard penalty and it was half-time.

Truter’s match was a series of comedy turns. He could miss a catch more comprehensively than a clown. He missed one when Kemp kicked through at the start of the second half and Johnson and Wells converged upon him. Johnson picked the ball up, headed for Mulder and at precisely the right moment transferred to Wells, who was belted down by Mans at express speed at the corner but who was adjudged to have scored—a just reward for a very clever piece of play. Flavell placed the goal. It was 8-nil. Waikato was playing like a dream. Time to give tongue, therefore, and cheer the old side on. Who knows, they could be ‘56 all over again.

They weren’t. The Springboks announced that they were getting sick of themselves by staging two fine runs. Then in the tenth minute of the second half, Malan won a tight-head, Slabber, playing extremely well, jigged out of half-hearted tackles and Naude, taking his pass, plunged over for Mans to goal. Three minutes later came the crisis when Flavell, taking a penalty 38 yards out, struck an upright, the ball rebounding infield and being cleared. From this moment, the match turned slowly, grindingly, in favour of the Springboks. Naude placed a penalty from 47 yards. Slabber, having been held by both Kemp and Catley, was allowed to depart and Schoeman, taking his pass, crashed over for Mans to goal. Barnard with sidestep and speed went past three men in a run of 20 yards for a try Mans also goaled. For a moment, Waikato came back into the game when Kemp went through a gap carelessly left by Brynard; and Pickering, backing up, saw the gap, ran through it for 20 yards and scored amid the wildest elation, which was renewed when Flavell placed the goal.

One more wild move by Waikato, by Kemp, Johnson and others, ruined by an ankle-tap by Roux, and then it was Springboks, Springboks, Springboks. First, Smith with a try after 20 yards of speeding down the blindside. Then Catley, just after being hurt, was caught by Naude, and Malan and Janson, backing- up, charged over for Mans to place the converting goal.

It had taken long to come off and there were problems for the ‘Boks, not least in the necessity to place Naude at No. 3 instead of Botha for the sake of possession in the second half. Roux, as of old, was a problem, too, for no one, least of all himself, knew where he was going and this was a problem for Mans, who on the left wing looked the best back in the game. But in the end, it was a beating; and Mooloo, a tired, dispirited beast compared with the sprightly cow of 1956, trudged moodily to the byre to brood upon her downfall.

Waikato: D. Flavell; J. A. S. Mackenzie, A. Johnson, R. J. Wells; G. H. Catley, R. W. Kemp; I. H. Cathro (captain); E. A. R Pickering; I. K. Begbie, G. A. Clarke, L. W. D. Quarrie, B. A. Guest; G. J. W. Wright, T. J. Chestnut, J. T. Porima.

South Africa: Mulder; Truter, Roux, Brynard, Mans; Barnard, Smith (captain); Slabber; Janson, Botha, Naude, Schoeman; Parker, Malan, Macdonald.

Referee: Mr D. H. Millar (Otago).

The nicest touch of the day preceded the match by only a few minutes. The referee of the curtain-raiser was none other than I. J. Clarke, the All Black who had led the Waikato pack in their dynamic charges in 1956. As he quietly left the field, after a most promising exhibition, two small boys stuck him up for autographs. It left a good feeling that the great of the past were not being forgotten.”

From “The Bok Busters” by Terry McLean. Pub. 1965 by A H & A W Reed. P. 101-106.

Rex Pickering - played well in a losing side