July 20 - 1977 Lions mud wrestle Juniors

The 1977 Lions had equalled the series by winning the second test but were being criticised by the New Zealand media, perhaps unfairly, and they had struck their share of muddy grounds. It was their third game in Wellington, and like the other two matches, ground conditions were not good.

The referee struggled to tell the teams apart, the Lions are in red, NZ Juniors in black.

“The next resting place for the tour caravan was Wellington and everyone hoped that for the third and final visit the weather would prove much kinder and certainly drier but, alas, the plane touched down in rain at Wellington Airport and thoughts of a wet and muddy pitch for the match against the New Zealand Juniors were realised. There was no escape, and from Sunday afternoon until Thursday morning the whole party was hotel bound because of the weather and only business activities forced officials, players and the members of the media into the open streets!

Match No. 19

Played at Athletic Park, Wellington. July 20, 1977.

British Isles defeated New Zealand Juniors by two goals. one penalty and one try (19) to one goal and one penalty (9).

Crowd:15,000. Weather: Damp. Ground: Very muddy.


British Isles 19 – E. H. Rees, R. W. Windsor, J. Squire tries D. W. Morgan one penalty and two conversions.

New Zealand Juniors 9 – S. T. Pokere a try; B. W. Wilson penalty and conversion.

Although the rain ceased before the kick-off, Athletic Park was in a tragic state and had the match been one that could have been replayed at a later date it would have been cancelled hours before the kick-off. Conditions were impossible and curtain-raisers out of the question and while disagreeing with the policy over major grounds one had sympathy for the Wellington Union as not one of the three Lions’ matches at Athletic Park were played in favourable conditions. However, the Lions won two and lost one at the ground, as they did at Lancaster Park, Christchurch, although both they and their opponents would have preferred firm going and running rugby.

In this match the brave Juniors, who played with admirable spirit throughout, and the mighty scrummaging Lions, who deserved their victory, soon looked like muddy monsters as they moved across the field ankle deep in mud in search of the ball. By the second half the forwards on both sides were almost indistinguishable and it could not have been all that easy for Referee Farnsworth to tell them apart.

The Juniors did extremely well and ran the ball at every opportunity, often out of their own ’25’ area, but they could not cope with the powerful Lions pack in the set scrums and at the mauls where weight and experience took toll of the youthful stamina of the Juniors. Apart from one over-vigorous tackle by Cotton on flank forward Sullivan, which caused him to leave the field with slight concussion and be replaced by Alan Dawson, it was a remarkably sporting game, considering the atrocious conditions. Unfortunately, the least sporting crowd of the tour did not think so.

Whenever the Juniors were awarded a penalty the crowd cheered loudly but booed when one was given to the Lions. They maintained the booing while the Lions attempted a kick at goal and when any Lion was injured they cheered. Such behaviour was difficult to understand in view of Wellington’s long service to the game of rugby and to other major sports. Many outstanding sportsmen down through the years have been nurtured in the province and are proudly remembered, but on this tour the spectators at Athletic Park could only be described as bad tempered and most unsporting.

The Juniors took the lead after twenty minutes with a twenty seven-yard penalty by full-back Beverley sic Wilson, who was destined to gain a Test team place four days later and on his performance in this match it was well deserved. He converted a try in the second half and revealed that he had regained his confidence as a kicker and player following his eight out of nine misses as a kicker for Otago against the Lions. A few minutes after his penalty the Lions’ forwards hooked and held a ball at the serum on the Juniors’ ’25’ line then released it for Morgan to send John Bevan to the blind side. Bevan slipped through like an eel in the mud of a river bed and handed on to Elgan Rees, who scampered over for a try that Morgan could not convert. There was no more scoring in the first half and as the Juniors had played into the wind it was quite an achievement on their part to have held the tourists to a point. Their youthful enthusiasm continued into the first ten minutes of the second half and they took the lead again immediately play was resumed.

Wilson joined the line from full-back and raced through. He got to the Lions’ ’25’ line and was tackled but the loose ball was kicked over the goal line where Stephen Pokere, the nineteen-year-old Southland Maori, just got the touch down before Elgan Rees who was cross covering. A sharp try from a good counter attack and Wilson kicked an easy conversion to make it 9 – 4 in favour of the Juniors. Wilson failed with a later penalty attempt and Pokere was stopped at the corner flag. Meanwhile the booing increased in volume as the Lions regained the lead and full control of the match.

They hooked and held at a scrum to ‘walk’ it along for almost twenty yards in the mud before Squire released it to Morgan who kicked high. The ball was not gathered and the Lions piled into the muddy maul for Moss Keane to gather, charge away and set up another maul before returning the ball to Morgan who went away to the blind side. The ball passed through the safe hands of Hay, J. J. Williams and Neary before an inside flip saw Windsor crash over for a try that Morgan converted – to the accompaniment of some polite applause from the grandstand. The score remained at 10-9 until near the end when a late tackle on Hay provided Morgan with the opportunity of kicking a penalty goal, which incurred even louder booing. In injury time the Lions collected another six points when they trapped Wilson in a tackle and the ball, inevitably, emerged from the maul on the Lions’ side. The grateful Morgan, playing confidently, went to the open side and put Jeff Squire over for a try near the posts and then converted it easily. The final whistle sounded and the Lions had won the deepest mud bath of the tour by 19-9.

Their power at the line-out and in the set scrum and maul was overwhelming but the ability of the Juniors to counter-attack even from their own ’25’ area was important. It must have impressed the All Blacks selectors present because four days later they nominated for the third Test an all-attacking back division without Sid Going and with Wilson as their full-back.”

From “TRIAL OF STRENGTH THE 1977 BRITISH LIONS IN NEW ZEALAND” by J B G Thomas. Published 1977 by Pelham Books. Pp 128-131.