July 8 -1961 - France play first match in New Zealand

The 1961 tour of New Zealand had been eagerly awaited. It was the first by a French team, and New Zealanders did not quite know what to expect. The French had a reputation for playing with flair and passion, but not always that successfully. But, they had beaten the All Blacks in Paris in 1954 and in 1958 had won a test series against the Springboks, in South Africa, something the 1960 All Blacks were unable to do. Obviously they were a dangerous side, with the added attraction of being French, probably stylish, perhaps with a touch of glamour and, different.

The difference became evident at their very first practice at Nelson College when one of touring forwards came onto the field and relieved himself against one of the goalposts. Shock, horror in conservative New Zealand. There were official discussions, the French management was spoken to and to their credit the French behaved admirably thereafter.

The first team to oppose the tourists was chosen from the Nelson, Marlborough and Golden Bay-Motueka unions. Well-known players in the home team were the All Black wing Bruce McPhail, who had arrived from Canterbury in 1960, and South Island representative Murray Surgenor, who was also a New Zealand triallist. Bevan Dalley, the centre, was a nephew of former All Black halfback Bill Dalley.

A crowd of 11,000 watched the game, which was played in sunny weather on a firm ground. The visitors had a light breeze behind them for the first half. The home team held the tourists until halftime, but in the second spell the Frenchmen produced some dazzling football which delighted the spectators and left Combined lamenting.

Fifteen minutes had elapsed before Dupuy opened the scoring with a try after receiving a slick reverse pass from Vannier, who missed the conversion. Twelve minutes later Gardiner kicked across to McPhail’s wing and the speedster snapped up the ball to dive over for a spectacular try. Delany failed to convert.

France regained the lead when Saux broke through from the end of a lineout to send Donenech over for an unconverted try. Right on halftime Delany brought a roar from the crowd when he sent over a dropped goal from 45 yards to level the score.

The second half had scarcely begun when France grabbed the lead back. Bouquet poanced on a loose ball to touch down near the corner after a good run. Albaladejo converted. The French forwards were hot on attack, tossing the ball about near the home 25, when McPhail intercepted a pass. He broke clear, kicked over Vannier’s head and won a thrilling race to score near the posts. Delany’s conversion made the score 11-all.

Vannier fielded the ball at halfway and with a left-foot dropkick sent the ball soaring between the posts. Within two minutes the visitors scored again when Rancoule seized on a loose ball to touch down for an unconverted try. A switch of direction in the French backs sent Dupuy streaking down the touchline. Avoiding a tackle by Thelin, he drew Delany before sending Boniface away for a try. Albaladejo was off target with the kick.

A passing rush which had the ball moving from one side of the field to the other ended in a try to Vannier in the corner, Cazals then broke away from a lineout to put Saux over for a try, and in the closing stages Albaladejo goaled from a penalty to make the final score 29-11.

Delany bad a useful game at fullback for the home team, while McPhail scored two excellent tries and did some valuable covering. The other home backs acquitted themselves well. Ray Sutherland, Wratt, Surgenor and Wilson were the best of the Combined forwards,

The visitors looked a little short on fitness but they did enough to show their capabilities. Vannier did some good work, and the strongly built halfback Lacroix passed swiftly and accurately. Other French backs to catch the eye were Albaladejo and Boniface.

The visiting forwards were very loose and were beaten in the lineouts by Wratt and Sutherland. Laudouar took six tightheads to one and showed up as a useful all-round forward. Domenech and Cazals were the best of the other forwards.

“The Visitors” R H Chester & N A C McMillan, Moa Publications, pub. 1990 p.344-55.

French Itinerary