September 4 - 1962 North Otago surprise Wallabies

North Otago was, and is, one of New Zealand’s smallest provincial unions, and usually combined with other unions against international sides. The union was experiencing a good season in 1962 but playing the Wallabies was surely a step too far

“The Visitors” R H Chester & N A C McMillan, Moa Publications, pub. 1990 p.369-70.

“North Otago fielded no nationally known players in 1962, but the team was a useful one which won four and drew one of its eight games for the season. However, it was hardly expected to beat the Wallabies, especially as the visitors had nine test players in their lineup, plus two others who were to win their test caps before the end of the tour.

North Otago’s win by a single point was full of merit, even though Australia played a man short for most of the game and scored three tries to two. Despite being outweighed by a stone a man, the home pack held the tourists in every department except the lineouts, in which Dick Thornett was dominant throughout. The North Otago forwards were magnificent in the loose and had the Australian backs under constant pressure. There was also some fine running from the home backs.

The game was played in fine conditions before a large crowd. Play had been in progress 21 minutes when Douglas made a brilliant break up the centre and threw a long pass to Crittle, who stormed over near the posts. Spence converted. A minute later the Wallabies were penalised in front of their posts and Conlan kicked a simple goal. He was successful with another penalty shot a few minutes later and the interval came with North Otago leading 6-5.

There was a sensational opening to the second spell. Coe pounced on a dropped pass, broke clear, punted over Spence’s head and beat the Australian fullback to the ball to dive over for an excellent try. Conlan missed the conversion.

Australia regained the lead when the ball was run along the visitors’ backline to Walsham, who sprinted away for a try which Spence converted. After 18 minutes Dick Thornett toed the ball over the home line and fell on it for a try to give the tourists a four-point lead. However, four minutes later Gard received the ball from a ruck and cut infield to send Pile away for a try. Conlan’s conversion put North Otago ahead by 14-13. The crowd erupted when a burst by Coe ended in what looked like a try to Lewis, but it was not awarded and the locals had to be content with their one-point victory.

Two of the North Otago backs were outstanding. Coe on the left wing looked a player of international class, and the former Otago representative Darling gave a fine display at fullback, outplaying Spence in the process. All of the home forwards produced splendid efforts. The front row lost nothing in comparison with the test players opposing them, and there was some great work in the tight from Barber and Familton. McNee worked tirelessly.

The Wallaby backs were closely marked and found difficulty in penetrating the home line. Walsham and Douglas, the wings, impressed most. The forwards were too loose and seldom worked as a Unit, but the Thornett brothers and White played up to their best standard.

This was North Otago’s first win over an international team and remains the union’s finest performance to date.”