June 1 - 1976 Ireland defeat Southland

The 1976 Irish team won their final provincial match, against Southland, 18 – 3. The home team fielded five present or future All Black, four in the forwards, so the comfortable Irish win was something of a surprise and would have given them confidence for their up-coming test match.

Geoff Valli - Southland team

“The final provincial match of the tour was against Southland at Invercargill. Despite winning only three of their 13 matches in 1975, the local team had beaten Canterbury. Their only previous match in the current season had seen them thrash North Otago. Included in their pack was test flanker Ken Stewart and All Black loose ward Bob Barber. Future All Blacks were Frank Oliver at lock, Leicester Rutledge, the other loose forward, and fullback Geoff Valli, a prolific goalkicker.

In a torrid start to the match Davidson, making his first appearance in New Zealand, aggravated a gash to his head in the opening minutes, but returned to the field swathed in bandages. Not long after, a brawl erupted between the two forward packs and Tinker was floored by a punch from Irish flanker Whelan. Such was the extent of the fighting that referee Nelson Whittaker took some time to restore order.

A tense atmosphere prevailed throughout the match, with the referee not allowing any play to develop from rucks mauls. As the half wore on, the Irish gained in confidence and initiated several promising attacks. However, there was no scoring until five minutes before time. From a ruck Brady beat his opposite number and raced 40 metres before passing to Ensor. The fullback cut back infield and threw a long pass to Grace, who raced away to score by the posts to give Quinn an easy conversion. Right on the break Barber was penalised after a tussle with Foley in front of his own posts. Quinn goaled to give the Irish a 9 – 0 advantage as the teams changed ends.

Ireland resumed the attack early in the second half and were rewarded after five minutes when Tinker had a kick charged down near his own line. The ball ran back into the in-goal, where Gibson won the race. Quinn’s conversion increased the Irish lead to 15-0.

A lineout penalty a few minutes later by Valli opened the Southland account. During the middle part of the spell the locals threw everything into the attack but were unable to add further points. Fourteen minutes from the end Quinn raised the flags again with a penalty wide out on the 22. The final scoreline of 18-3 did not fully reflect the superiority of Irish in this match, and if Quinn had been on target with goal kicking, the visitors’ tally could well have been above 30.

One of the brightest stars in the match was halfback Robbie McGrath, making his first appearance in New Zealand after being flown in to replace Canniffe, who had suffered a serious leg injury in training at Christchurch. Despite having three stitches inserted in a head wound in second half, McGrath played with speed and courage. Little was seen of the backs of either side in this testy, whistle-interrupted match, but the Irish convincingly the won battle between the two packs. McKinney, Steele and Davidson outplayed the much-vaunted Southland loose-foward combination, while Foley and Hakin overshadowed Oliver and Leach, who nevertheless won some useful lineout ball. One of the few Southlanders to stand out was Valli, who fielded the ball faultlessly and kicked some long and accurate touch-finders.”

From “The Visitors” R H Chester & N A C McMillan, Moa Publications, pub. 1990 p.495.