The real message of Mdantsane in East London:
Until Africans and Coloureds are able to play at grass roots level of the game, they can’t hope to become a force on the odd game against overseas teams.
South African rugby had to move beyond window dressing. It was time for some serious rugby development in black communities and schools because rugby itself was not the winner on this weekday in August 1976. “Clearly the Leopards need more experience in the company of skilful, well-coached players. The answer is at club level” these were the words of Carwyn James coach of the victorious Lions to New Zealand in 1971. James a long outspoken critic of Apartheid was in South Africa to see for himself the working of South African politics and sport.
This was the Leopards fifth game against an overseas side since historic ground was broken by England in 1972 but neither that nor all the preliminaries and the pleasant aftermath could disguise the fact that the match itself was a sham.
The Leopards were unrepresentative of the larger rugby playing black community in South Africa due to some political dispute between organisations (KWARU, SARU and SAARB) as who had the rights to form a representative administration.
It was also uneasy times in South Africa in the aftermath of the Soweto riots and the match took place under the tightest security imaginable; Mdantsane had been the scene of riots less than a month ago. An Army helicopter patrolled the township during the game; riot armed police in camouflage outfits were stationed on the road from East London, near the gates of the stadium and were patrolling the surrounding area during the game. The All Blacks, the coaches and the press entered the township in a convoy behind military vehicles from east London.
Against this background of police, guns and barbed wire the All Blacks with their genius of laconic, uncomplicated and friendly behaviour captured the hearts of the enthusiastic Africans and in turn were enthralled by the happy, smiling hordes of schoolchildren. It was the infectious spontaneous laughter of the schoolchildren on the day before the match during an All Black practice session that made all the visitors in the cavalcade of buses to the ground forget about the tensions which had foreshadowed the journey to the stadium. Terry McLean writes:
At the end of the training run on the Sisa Dukashe Staduim at Mdantsane Township on the day before the match, Black boys were invited by the All Blacks to join in. Kids sat on the shoulders of All Blacks performing press-ups, kids clustered in droves around the All Blacks’ kid, Fawcett, when he shelled the silver out of his pockets, there were relay races and God knows what.
The game itself simply came apart at the seams after the kiwis scored 9 points in the first 4 minutes with a Mains penalty in the second minute and a splendid try in the corner by Purvis in the 4th minute. The All Blacks dominated the tight phases winning 9 tight heads in the scrums –pushing the Leopards off their own ball most of the time. Struggling in the scrums and only ably to win 6 lineouts in the entire match the Leopards were trust into a defensive game. Ferocious tackling, blatant offside play and destructive tactics by the Leopards turned the match into a frantic scramble. Anything in a black jersey that showed the remotest sign of live was scythed down, or bowled over by flankers, Morgan Cushe and Lilee Jonas and hard working No 8, Vusumzi Nakani.
Morgan Cushe playing for the Leopards against a French touring side in 1975.
There was hardly any sign of the brotherhood -so evident before the match- during the match and Osborne had to leave the field with concussion –effectively ending his tour- in the 46th minute; Crossman was so severely buffed up by Broadness Cona –who received in return of counter punch from Frank Oliver- that he needed stitches under his left eye.
Pretty much everyone was offside at some time or other in the Leopard side. Pretty much everyone tackled head high, so much so that Lyn Davis finished with a cut lip, a swollen eye and a bruised cheek while Doug Bruce was clobbered, Mitchell was struck on the mouth; Crossman needed stitches under his eye and Osborne left the field with concussion. Not the best circumstances to try and play attractive open rugby.
Entertainment of the crowd, however, seemed to have been principal on the kiwi’s agenda as they kept trying to play open engaging rugby instead of consolidating with solid forward drive to draw in the stragglers and spoilers lurking on the fringes of the rucks and the mauls. The result; the All Blacks foundered, moving from mistake to mistake in handling and passing.
Lyn Davis bleeds from wounds inflicted by the Leopards. The All Black halfback was quite a mess after the match.
The All Blacks took a roasting afterwards from their supporters who packed the main stand and the press was quick to point out that the 1974 Lions had won this side by ten tries to one. The All Blacks scored only three tries and they came on long intervals, Purvis at four minutes, Purvis at 40 and Seear at 77 minutes. Mains scored 19 points with the boot making it an all Otago affair on the scoreboard.
Best of pals, Kent Lambert and Broadness Cona leaving the field after the Leopards match at East London.
Joe Morgan getting scythed down by Mncendi Mnqatu (left) and Timothy Nkonki.
Kevin Eveleigh had picked up the tag of “The Grim Reaper” by this stage of the tour due to his ferocious tackling. Here he evades a tackle before offloading to Lawrie Knight. Eveleigh had a theory on tackling namely that you tackle the backline players in the midrif to hurt them so that they have one eye on you and one on the ball next time. Forwards, however, need to be tackled on the toes because they'll dip a shoulder on you and hurt you if you try and tackle them above the waist.
It was not a perfect last game before the critical third test but the All Blacks felt reasonably confident after seeing the changes to the Springbok side. The South African selectors came up with four changes three of them in the pack with Kevin de Klerk in for John Williams, Johan Strauss in for Derek van den Berg and Piston van Wyk in for Robert Cockrell. The All Blacks were surprised by the inclusion of Piston van Wyk who did not impress for Natal playing against them but the big talking point was the omission of Ian Robertson and the persistence with Dawie Snyman on fullback.
What they didn’t know at this stage was that these three changes in the Springbok pack proved to be the deciding moment of the 1976 series.
2 con, 5 pen
Norman Mbike (c)
Graeme Crossman (C)
* Replaced by Kit Fawcett in the 46th minute
Referee: Stoney Steenkamp (Orange Free State); Crowd 8 000 – 10 000.
Run of play
Main penalty, 22 meters
Purvis try, mains convert.
Mains dropgoal, 42 meters.
Main penalty, 13 m.
Mains penalty, 21 m.
Mains penalty, 9 m.
Seear try, Mains convert.
Mnqatu missed a penalty from 36 meters, Ndzala from 34 m. Mbiko missed a drop from 27 meters. Mains missed penalties from 27 and 36 meters respectively.