July 21 - 1956 Canterbury defeat the Springboks

After the success of the 1937 Springboks in New Zealand (sometimes referred to as the best team to ever leave New Zealand) and the whitewash of the 1949 All Blacks in South Africa the 1956 Springboks arrived in New Zealand with a reputation approaching that of supermen. But after winning all six matches (including two tests) in Australia they found the going much tougher here, losing to Waikato and in the first test. Ranfurly Shield holders Canterbury in game 12 represented another serious challenge and so it proved.

“The sun was shining, which was something of a change, when the Springboks arrived at Christchurch. Canterbury had held the Ranfurly Shield since 1953 and, although they had lost to West Coast earlier in the season, they were rightly regarded as one of the most difficult of the visitors’ opponents The side that lost at Greymouth.was not at full strength, but there was no doubt about the quality of the team chosen to oppose the Springboks.

Of the Canterbury backs, all except ‘Buddy’ Henderson had played for New Zealand, while Duff, Hill and Buxton, three of the forwards, were also All Blacks. Three others, Hugh Burry, Dennis Young and Wilson Whineray, were later to represent their country.

The Springboks fielded 10 players who had taken part in the first test, along with the experienced Johnny Buchler at fullback. Although the visitors could have put a stronger team on the field had it not been for injuries, their side was still a formidable one.

Craven had come up with a new theory on the high incidence of hamstring injuries. He believed they could be caused through the players not wearing sufficiently warm clothing, and intended putting this theory to the test.

The game, which ended in the visitors’ third defeat, was a very fine one, marked by the superb display of the home pack. Although the match was won by a controversial penalty eight minutes from the end, there was no denying that Canterbury deserved their victory. The South Africans dominated the scrums and lineouts, but the home forwards were superior in loose play and in the rucks especially.

The game was played in good conditions and watched by a crowd of 46,000. It had been in progress only two minutes when Duff broke through a lineout and passed to Hern, who sent the ball quickly to Buxton. The flanker bad a clear run to the line and touched down wide out, to the delight of the crowd. Henderson missed the difficult conversion. Buchler injured his neck trying to stop the Canterbury try and was carried off on a stretcher, but he returned 12 minutes later.

After five minutes Canterbury conceded a penalty for offside, and Nel evened the score with an easy kick from in front of the posts. Eight minutes later Stuart injured his shoulder and left the field. He came back after 25 minutes amid loud cheering.

Halfway through the spell the visitors were penalised on their 25, and Henderson put his team ahead with a good kick. The lead was short-lived, however. Strydom sent his backs away and a reverse pass between Howe and Nel put the latter through a gap. Nel beat Henderson before sending the ball back to Howe, who tore away for a lovely try. Buchler failed to convert from an easy position.

The score remained at six-all until eight minutes from fulltime. The home forwards were playing magnificently at this stage, and the Springboks were hanging on desperately. When a ruck formed near the visitors’ 25 the referee put his whistle to his mouth, removed it, replaced it and repeated the process, then blew the whistle and penalised Retief for offside. Henderson had no trouble with the kick and the home side won by 9-6. Thus the 1956 Canterbury team emulated their 1921 counterparts by beating the Springboks

The South African party believed the ruck from which Retief was penalized had gone on too long, even by New Zealand standards. It was the custom in South Africa to blow up rucks quickly, but New Zealand referees allowed them to continue as long as the ball was likely to come out and provided play was not dangerous.

Stuart, who announced his retirement after the game, played a grand game and displayed great courage in twice returning to the field after being injured. On the whole the Canterbury backs were given few chances to show their wares, but there was a sound tactical game from Vincent, and Dixon did some good work, especially when he had to deputise for Stuart while the fullback was off the field. The Canterbury forwards were superb. Duff won a fair share of the lineouts and grafted away solidly in the tight. Buxton, Roberts and Burry covered relentlessly, while Whineray showed signs of great things to come.

Buchler was very sound for the visitors and was certainly not found wanting when it came to courage. Howe and Nel had a decided edge on their opposites and both played very well. Of the forwards, de Wilzem turned on another fine game and must have forced himself into contention for the second test. Claassen was in good form in the lineouts, and it was mainly through his efforts that the visitors held a slight advantage in this department.

It was unfortunate that Dr Craven chose to make an official complaint to the NZRFU after the Canterbury match on the standard of refereeing encountered by his team in New Zealand. It had earlier been reported from South Africa that the great Springbok flyhalf Bennie Osler had accused the 1928 All Blacks of trying to deliberately maim their opponents’ and Craven’s outburst concerning referees was rather ill timed. There were attacks on his complaint by both the South African and New Zealand press, and Craven was accused of making excuses to explain the comparatively poor record of the tourists.”

“The Visitors” R H Chester & N A C McMillan, Moa Publications, pub. 1990 p.303-304.

Canterbury fullback Kevin Stuart bravely battled on