The day Rhodesia beat the All Blacks
There are a host of international teams like Scotland and Ireland not even to mention second tier test nations like Canada, USA, Italia and Argentina who have never beaten the All Blacks. Wales have beaten the All Blacks only three times the last time being in 1953. In general the only teams really able to foster some occasional wins against the All Blacks are England, France and South Africa with the latter being by far the most successful in this regard. The fact that Rhodesia (now of course Zimbabwe) have once beaten the All Blacks are therefore something really unique and says a lot about the state of rugby in Southern Africa at the time this occurred namely in 1949. The fact that South Africa also white washed the 1949 All Black side 4-0 in the test series leaves the impression that it was a weak All Black team which is something most rugby scribes strongly reject.
The match statistics of the 1949 tourists are certainly not flattering.
Western Province Universities
South Western Districts
Orange Free State
North Eastern Districts
Orange Free State
Cape Town Clubs
Won 11 – 9
Won 8 – 5
Won 21 – 3
Won 6 – 3
Lost 0 – 9
Won 8 – 0
Won 19 - 3
Won 6 – 3
Drew 9 -9
Lost 5 – 6
Won 6 - 3
Lost 11 – 15
Won 13 – 3
Lost 8 – 10
Drew 3 – 3
Won 6 – 3
Lost 6 – 12
Won 17 - 3
Won 8 - 6
Won 28 – 3
Won 14 – 9
Lost 3 – 9
Drew 6 – 6
Lost 8 – 11
Drew 11 - 11
Many reasons or contributing factors for the poor tour record and the rather unique defeat at the hands of Rhodesia (what some would consider an obscure provincial side) has been voiced over the years.
Fred Allen had his team made a pact that they would not complain about the tour because whinging would not change the results. The team honoured that pack for over 50 years but Allan has always wondered whether he made the right decision. In his authorized biography a multiple number of excuses surfaced which he sensibly did not voiced during or directly after the tour. If he did he could have ended-up like Danie Craven in 1956 with the newspapers making a list of all his excuses why they lost 7 and drew 4 of 25 matches they played. These excuses/reasons include things like:
1. The ship on which they travelled to South Africa was substandard and to small with not enough deck space to train on;
2. The South Africans being too friendly and treating them with too much food, drink and cocktail parties;
3. The New Zealand coaches being too old and incompetent;
4. The NRFU being to gullible and agreeing to leave the Maori players behind;
5. The extreme touring itinerary;
6. Hennie Muller being allowed with offside play to destroy the NZ midfield;
7. The South African referees penalising them too much at the rucks;
8. Not getting penalties in kickable positions in the test matches;
9. The South African props using dirty and illegal tactics
The 1949 All Blacks side had some real issues coaching wise (their coach at the time struggling with health problems and not handling the heat, dust and pressure well) and Terry McLean had no doubts that it was one if not the main reason why the 1949 All Blacks struggled in South Africa. He writes:
Fred Allen returned from the misery of the tour in a disturbed state of mind. He had been forced to carry the can for two elderly men, one the team manager the other as coach, and when each was proved incompetent, he bore much of the severe public criticism of the team.
Fred Allan shown here with All Black coach Alex MacDonald.
Another main reason given for this shock defeat has been given as the extreme traveling itinerary of the touring party.
The 1949 All Blacks on their tour to South Africa played 25 matches between 31 May and 21 September. They played as far south as Cape Town and as far north as Salisbury, as Harare was then known, and many places in between.
They did not have a chartered plane for a 45-minute hop to Port Elizabeth. They used local transport, mostly the train - the slow, rocking train and crawled around the country. Traveling from Wellington after their match against Boland to Oudtshoorn for their Wednesday match against South Western Districts for instance took 24 hours. The next afternoon they left for Port Elizabeth, arriving there at half past seven on the Friday morning to play Eastern Province, then a tough proposition with six Springbok trialists in their side. New Zealand won 6-3. The trip from Port Elizabeth to East London took 9 hours by bus and the tour through Potchefstroom and Johannesburg to Kroonstad took them 17-hours with matches spaced in between.
By the time of the first test they have travelled from Cape Town -mostly by train- through all four provinces and back to Cape Town.
After the first Test they headed back to Johannesburg by train; a trip that lasted 26 hours. They played Transvaal on the Saturday and that same night climbed on a train to Bulawayo, arriving on Monday morning. They then took another train to the Victoria Falls, arriving on Tuesday morning. On Tuesday night they went back to Bulawayo, arriving on Wednesday morning. That very afternoon after four nights on the train they played Rhodesia.
Winston McCarthy entitled the piece about this match in his book ‘All Blacks on trek again: ‘Travel weariness – backs miss opportunities’.
Writing after the tour Winston McCarthy wrote: "The team never looked the same combination after the Rhodesian trip, a journey that should never have been undertaken by rail with so many games left to play, including three Tests."
McCarthy also wrote: "The itinerary of the 1949 team was well studied before it was accepted by the New Zealand Rugby Union.... The fact remains that travelling in South Africa is tough. The worst part of the trip, but mind you I only mean insofar as travelling was concerned, was the journey to and from Rhodesia. The Rhodesians, no less than the South Africans, were magnificent in their hospitality to the team, but, nevertheless, it would have been far better had this part of the tour not been undertaken. Eight nights out of twelve in the train plus two matches in excessive heat was not in the best interests of a team that had three more Test matches to play.”
Yes the traveling was tough but that was the nature of moving around the two respective countries in those early years. The 1921 Springbok team in New Zealand was also confronted with traveling by train and/or on muddy roads in bitter cold for extreme lengths of time just to play the next day in weather conditions that left the playing surfaces barely more than a mud slump.
It is no secret that the 1928 All Blacks to South Africa complained about the traveling and referees as this remarks made by vice-captain Mark Nicholls published in the NZ Truth on 19 July 1928 indicate: “We have been up against it since we arrived in South Africa, a number of circumstances contributing to our inability to show true form.
“The tremendous amount of travelling from high to low altitude and vice versa resulted in a succession of colds and influenza, while the hard grounds certainly caused minor injuries. We also found the eight-seamed balls as used here, difficult of handling and kicking, but now we are getting accustomed to them.
“We have difficulty in adapting ourselves to the old rules under which possession is everything. There are few free kicks here, referees generally awarding scrums, so there are about 100 scrums in every match with the South Africans getting a two-third majority.” Despite all these issues and some Irish internationals (Cunningham and Gardiner) playing for the home team the All Blacks ran in a 44 – 8 victory against Rhodesia in 1928.
Reading the above remarks by Mark Nicholls and considering the splendid victory margin achieved by the 1928 All Blacks one can’t help but feel that there was more to the accomplishments of the two Rhodesian sides in 1949 (one win and a draw) than a travel weary touring side.
The 1949 team had no matches in the week before a Test. There was also no match in the week after the first test and the third test. In addition they requested and received two weeks extra after arriving in South Africa to prepare and get fit for the first tour match. They spend that two weeks in Hermanus to counter the side effect of the long boat trip but complained afterwards over hospitality (too much food, drink and cocktail parties). The South African rugby union was obviously accommodative and did it best to make the tourist stay as pleasant as possible and blaming the South Africans for the tour itinerary and tough travelling conditions is a bit of a one-sided argument. The extra two weeks in Hermanus which was granted on their request Craven believed affected the tourists more adversely than is generally recognised stating that no touring team can build morale and team spirit if they get restless and irritable waiting to get started with the tour.
Contributing the poor tour results including the defeat against Rhodesia to traveling alone is therefore hardly an excuse. Clearly the quality of Rhodesian rugby had something to do with the results of the two matches played in Rhodesia.
The 1949 All Blacks self was quick to compliment the Rhodesians with their style of play and felt that it was the best match and most enjoyable match on tour up to that stage. The Rhodesian side score two tries in the first match in Bulawayo against the All Blacks which is quite a feat considering that only 7 tries were scored against the 1949 All Blacks on the entire tour.
Years later in Fred Allan’s authorised biography the author use this statistics (only 7 tries scored against the All Blacks) in a roundabout way to justify the issues the forty-niners had with referees. Fact is that the SA team of the early years were moulded on the Bennie Osler style of safety first. Mark Nicholls was quoted as follows about the SA rugby in 1928: “The South Africans’ style of play is safety first and safety last. Despite overwhelming possession, the inside backs invariably kick for touch until in our twenty-five. There from the line-outs, a ruck forms and when they gain possession, their backs start a passing rush or a drop goal.” It seems nothing had changed about SA rugby since 1928 and kicking for field position was certainly as much part of the style in 1949 than it is today.
Danie Craven just took over as coach in 1949 and it was the first test series after the Second World War and Craven’s main task was to find players and built a team. In fact one of the chapters in his book (Danie Carven; Springbok story – 1949 – 1953) on the 1949 and 1952 Springboks are: ‘In search of a team’. One can appreciate that changing the Springboks style of play was the last thing on his mind in 1949. Craven was severely criticized and almost dumped as coach for the boring and one dimensional rugby that the Springboks dished-up against the 1949 All Blacks.
Danie Craven about the 1949 series
About the tourists in general
About their defence
Craven made some interesting observations after the first match the All Blacks played in SA. They were brilliant he thought in the first 20 minutes but their play then deteriorated and he felt that they never again on tour reproduced the form they showed in that first 20 minutes. He opinionated that there was also a tendency right through the tour of scoring fewer points in the second half. The All Blacks thought it was due to lack of fitness and constantly tried to rectify this with intense training session which Craven thought left them stale for the matches.
He writes that the reality of the situation was the All Blacks were playing with the bogey of a nation expecting results. That pressure resulted in them being to tense and focusing too much on what is wrong in their game (in an attempt to fix it) rather than on what went well. They thought the problem was fitness and ‘unfitness’, writes Craven, ‘became the ghost which had to laid.’
“My impression was”, writes Craven, “that the energy which the All Blacks could have spent in their matches was spent on practice, and this was the reason why they always lacked that fire of which they were capable, as they had demonstrated so forcibly at Newland in the first match of the tour.”
After the first match he wrote: “It was also quite clear that few tries would be scored against this team. It is true that this is something that we consider wrong, viz. that the backs never came up on defence at top speed. Running at half speed they could turn more easily, and, if necessary, run with the man with the ball. The man with the ball was not tackled; at least that was not the first consideration. He was forced to pass. As our style is to let the ball out to the wings, and as our backs invariably run across the field but seldom follow the ball out to the wings, this defensive system of the All Blacks yielded fruit a hundredfold.
“The All Blacks did not rely so much on passing the ball out to their wings. They tried to penetrate in the middle with their centres, especially the inside centre.” It was this straight aggressive running of the inside backs close to the advantage line that made them such sitting ducks for Hennie Muller he biased mostly because in the South African defensive system the number 8 is used to target the inside backs.
Craven continues by stating that the advantages of the All Blacks defensive system were outweighed by some serious disadvantages. Specifically, that the forwards and backs acted as separated entities and became separated which means that they had real difficulty turning defence into attack.
About their scrum and line-out
About criticism on the Springboks style of play
The scrummaging of the All Blacks was extremely poor he wrote after the first match. “But it was obvious that they had the weight and strength, and this department of their game could easily be improved.”
“Their line-outs were bad, lacking in method. There were no definite line-out forwards and no protection for the man who did take the ball.”
“The country was dissatisfied with the 15-11 victory in the first test”, writes Craven, “mainly because we had failed to score a try.”
“The conclusion arrived at was that we were lucky to win.” This is a debatable point Craven states and argues that at least two of the penalties awarded for the Springboks could have been penalty tries. “The impression gained was that the All Blacks would do anything in preference to having a try scored against them.”
About the Rhodesia matches
Craven venture that loss against Rhodesia in Bulawayo (8-10) and the draw in Salisbury (3-3) had much to do with Salty du Rand and Ryk van Schoor. Both these players targeted weaknesses in the All Black style of play namely the line-out and the use of the inside backs to punch holes in the defensive lines.
Van Schoor was devastating with his tackles and crippled the All Blacks attack. Both these players (du Rand and van Schoor) played so well that they were included in the second test team. Van Schoor was not even invited to the Springbok trails earlier the season and du Rand couldn’t play in the trials due to blood poisoning.
Notice the way the New Zealand backs go up in defence in this picture taken during the second test. The focus was to force the opposition to pass rather than to tackle them by staying on their inside. Notice also the absence of the New Zealand loose forwards in the defence set-up. The ball is already at the flyhalf and the openside flanker and No8 is still attached to the scrum.
The 1949 All Blacks was much appreciative of the positive, attacking and open style rugby the Rhodesian dished-up in Bulawayo on July 30th, 1949.
McCarty writes: “There is no doubt it, the Rhodesians deserved to win the game and what is more the All Blacks themselves were unstinted in their praise for the type of football played by their opponents.
“There was plenty of movement, and if there was one thing the All Blacks did appreciate, it was the fact that the Rhodesians attempted to score tries. Outstanding in their team was Joe Pretorius at fullback; he didn’t put a foot wrong all day, and was the best fullback we had met up to this time. Two other players who impressed in the backline were Brune and van Schoor.”
He continues and writes that he regarded Salty du Rand with his size, strength and speed the best flanker in the country. Brune he thought was a great attacking centre only second to Tjol Lategan. He was also impressed with Wilhelm Viljoen the scrumhalf. Jones on the flank and Prinsloo (the one lock) are also mentioned for their contributions in the match.
Rhodesia had a well-balanced side with forwards and back combining well. The forwards were very fit and worked hard for the full 80 minutes. The first try was scored by the wing Brink who followed-up on a cross kick by Karg the flyhalf that went into the ingoal area. Henderson the New Zealand right wing toed the ball forward in an attempt to dot it down and Brink was at hand to fall on the ball.
Soon after the kick-off Goddard the New Zealand fullback was caught in possession and Morkel the Rhodesian prop and Captain plucked the ball out of his hands before passing it to flanker Jones who ran diagonally across the field for 25 meters to score the second try. Behind 0-10 after just 5 minutes in the second half New Zealand tried everything but the defence held. Eventually after another 7 minutes of play the New Zealand left wing Boggs went over for a try.
New Zealand kept on attacking for another 15 minutes before Conrad the No9 got the ball from the line-out and went on his own to score in the corner to bring the score on 8-10. For the last 15 minutes of the match it took the All Blacks best efforts to keep the Rhodesians at bay.
In the pictures above; Conrad scoring for Rhodesia (top picture) and Boggs for New Zealand (bottom picture).
The teams that played in this match were:
Ryk van Schoor
Fred Allen (Capt)
Salty du Rand
John Morkel (Capt)
Apart from Brownlee (the No8) and Du Rand (No7) who was replaced by J Slabbert and S Putterill respectively it was the same side the drew with the All Blacks three days later in Salisbury.