The McLook rugby collection

A personal collection that tells the story of Springbok rugby

30 June 1956; Hawkes Bay – McLean Park, Napier

South Africa 22 / Hawkes Bay 8 

This match was played in the looming shadow of the first test on the back of mounting concern about the Springboks inability to hit form and constant worries about injuries to players. As a consequence different players and combinations were selected in the key positions in literally every match so far on tour. 

Brutal honest reflection suggests that lack of structure at the rucks and the line-out were primarily the reasons for the Springboks unconvincing show in these early stages of the ’56 tour. Not that the tour management were unaware of the problems as this was feverishly debated in local newspapers. Allegations that a disease of superficiality has entered Springbok forward play since 1952 started to emerge in the printed media all due to the Springboks inability to dominate upfront even against relatively weak provincial sides. The composition of the Springbok pack was subsequently a continued burning question for team management and the selection committee. 

In the light of the juxtaposition of the proximity of the first test and lack of forward dominance an experimental pack was picked for this match. The Springboks reverted to a juggernaut or ‘steamroller’ pack. Harry Newton-Walker, the prop, was brought into the lock with Johan Claassen, while Jan Pickard and Salty du Rand, both locks, were played on the flank. 

The team was: Roy Dryburg; Paul Johnstone; Pat Montini; Bennett ‘Peewee’ Howe; Karel Tom van Vollenhoven; Clive Ulyate; Coenraad ‘Poppye’ Strydom; Jaap Bekker; Bertus van der Merwe; Chris Koch; Johan Claassen, Harry Newton-Walker; Jan Pickard; Salty du Rand (Captain) and Daan Retief. 

It was an interesting selection of bulk in the pack at the cost of speed in the loose trio. An attempt, clearly, to find a solution for the persistent problems with lack of structure in certain aspects of forwards play. A suggestion perhaps that Carven was considering moving away from the contemporary -and his personally favoured- open style of play developed and used with much success by the 1952 touring side to the United Kingdom. 

McLean writes: Their selection, an interesting throwback to the methods so successfully employed by Phillip Nel’s team in 1937, concentrated huge weight and strength in the forwards and in the event led to utter domination of the scrummages and lineouts, in which winning advantage was at least 4 to 1.  

For all the amount of ball won, however, the victory was dreadfully inadequate. 

Apart from playing Salty du Rand on lock with Dawie Ackermann or Lochner on flank this was in all probability a pack that could have won South Africa the series. 

Unfortunately, the experiment was done on the wrong field and against the wrong opposition. The field was dry and fast and the Hawkes Bay pack 12.7 kg per man lighter than the South African forward pack sped-up the game which negated the potential impact of the juggernaut South African pack. The end-result was a stuttering performance by the Springboks in spite of total dominance up front. The Springbok pack ran out of legs and although they were never in danger of losing the match it was a far from convincing win which resulted in a situation that this line of thought -playing a heavy pack that could play more direct rugby- was abandoned as a possible strategic approach for the first test. 

Maxwell Price book it as follows in his account of the tour: In the mud the heavy scrum might have been a great force, but with the easy going on top the machine lacked the fuel to speed it to victory. The day just did not suit the experiment, and the play of the forwards was no help to the selectors. There was lack of teamwork, particularly at the line-out, where the ball was not held long enough to stop the opposing loose forwards raiding among the Springboks’ inside backs. 

The ‘jinxification’ of this experiment by circumstances of playing the wrong opposition (light and faster pack) on a dry surface was unfortunate with regards to the outcome of the series and South African rugby. Reverting from a 1952 style -of using fast loose forwards to link the forwards and the backs- necessitated playmakers in the pivotal positions to create play in the backline. The injury to playmaker Montini -early in the first half- and with Ulyate kicking to much collaborated with the dry surface/light opposition pack scenario to crown an uninspired, disjointed and mediocre Springboks performance. 

Mclean writes: Villain of the piece No.1 was Ulyate, who kicked short, high, long, far with no more profit than Retief’s lucky try and a dropped goal to himself. If these six points seemed a fair proportion of the 20 scored by the team as a whole, one could only retort that many, many more would have been scored has Ulyate appreciated the virtues (a) of surprise and (b) of a co-ordinated back attack.  

The pity was especially great because van Vollenhoven for the first time on tour developed his highest speed and because Montini (until he retired with a hamstring injury in the thirty-third minute), Howe and Johnstone, not to mention the enterprising Dryburg, had looked superior, man for man, to their markers.  

The reality was that the boks were in need of a good forward coach who could induce a bit more structure at the line-out; a bit more directness when taking the ball up and a bit more aggression at the tackle ball. In short a forward coach like Basil Kenyon who captained and coached the Border forwards into a cohesive structured unit that saw them first beat and then drew a second match against the All Blacks touring side of 1949. Cohesive structured and direct forward play in combination with just one more fast loose forward like Dawie Ackermann or Butch Lochner in this particular side could have seen the marrying of the 1937 and 1952 styles and the creation of one of the best Springbok sides in history. 

One get the feeling that the '56 Springboks were on the brink of getting it right and gelling into something exceptional when you read the following paragraphs by Terry McLean in his book ‘Battle for the rugby crown’: Ulyate, grasping the ball beam-on in a capacious left hand, threw off the defence by feinting a scissors pass to Johnstone and threw it off by actually giving a scissors pass which Howe spiritedly turned into a long diagonal run to the left before he handed to Claassen, who in turn passed to Koch with the goal-line no more than a few yards off. Koch scored a clean miss and what would have been the finest move of the tour so far was sadly terminated.  

This was the sort of avoidable error which was perpetrated in astonishing amount. As an example, Johnstone in the last few minutes, having cleanly beaten Marrett, a Hawke’s Bay sprint champion, by speed, threw a wretched pass to van Vollenhoven; a little later, with a try assured, he pitched a pass at Howe’s feet.  

I am told that Afrikaans contains a good many swear word and if du Rand and his packmates used most of them at the maddening sight of this sort of futile play by the backs, none could have condemned them. 

  

This picture shows Tom van Vollenhoven in action against Hawkes Bay. In the background Salty du Rand and Johan Claassen can be seen charging up in support. Van Vollenhoven was starting to find from and it was a pity, writes Terry McLean, that he didn’t see more ball in this match.  

The team were trying just too hard and were throwing 50/50 passes in situations where all that was required was just a bit more patience with ball in hand and team work to set the ball up for speedy recycling. 

Unfortunately, the players and team management totally immersed in the process of ‘getting-it-right’ were unable to step-back and see clearly; unable to grasp just how close they were to greatness. As an upshot, irritated, under pressure and extremely frustrated by their stuttering enactment they lashed into each other in a post-match meeting that ripped the team apart and doomed the tour to failure. 

McLean writes: The Auckland Star featured a story by Esmonde Doherty, its sports editor, who claimed that the match was succeeded by a “stormy” team meeting at which even the training methods of Dr Craven were criticized. Winston McCarthy claimed to have been told by one of the players that there was “bloody mutiny” brewing in the ranks before the team meeting began. Several of the players strenuously denied that there had been either storm or mutiny. 

Things would deteriorate from here on and a month later –early August- the touring party split into fractions and fractions of fractions consisting of the ‘dirt-trackers’, the Saturday 1st XV, backs against forwards, du Rand supporters and Viviers supporters, the ‘college boys’ and the veterans, the rednecks (or Soutpiele) and the hairy back Afrikaners and so forth. 

The disappointing performance by this juggernaut team against Hawkes Bay was the fuel that pushed the problems simmering since the selection of the squad to boiling point. 

The Hawkes Bay team put forward a plucky performance and restricted the Springboks to only three tries, all scored by Daan Retief. 

This picture shows Daan Retief scoring one of his three tries against Hawkes Bay. Retief scored his first try with-in 4 minutes when a loomed up in support of Coenraad Strydom who had made a 20 yards run after breaking splendidly from a scrum. 

Retief’s second try came in the fifteenth minute. The try resulted when du Rand held the ball in the lineout until Claassen working free, took it from him on a break around the short end. Retief loomed up in support to receive the ball and score. 

Retief moved to the wing after Montini got injured and it was a measure of his considerable speed and ability that he outpaced his marker to score a try from a well-placed kick to the right corner by Ulyate. 

Coenraad Strydom who made Retief’s first try can be seen on this newspaper clipping with two jockeys in Hawkes Bay.  

  

Johan Claassen who was in magnificent form in the line-out can be seen holding the ball after winning it in a line-out. Salty du Rand and Jan Pickard who played well too can also be seen in the picture. Pickard collected some boo from the crowd when he put fullback Edwards of the field for a while with a late charge.  

 

The Springboks were also introduced to a real Kiwi in Hawkes Bay. Here Basie Viviers can be seen striking-up a conversation with the Kiwi.  

The Wellington Evening Post provided a great summary of the Springboks’ general situation after the Hawkes Bay match: 

It was the tourists’ sixth successive win and could be regarded as continuing the process of improvement . . . However, there is still a long way to go even if head is paid to the fact that the XV fielded today included some players out of normal positions.  

After an early demonstration of their great superiority in weight among the forwards, the South Africans spun the ball freely with both departments endeavouring to co-operate. No smooth pattern was woven, however. Though the passing and handling were usually adequate, poor judgement was too often shown as to how far the player in possession should run before parting with the ball. Movement after movement began amidst bright promise only to disintegrate into an unsightly tangle.  

Much of this could be attributed to the injury which put Montini off the field shortly before half time . . . Still, an international touring side, playing in such perfect conditions, should have been able to link up more effectively.” 

It was a rugby team embattled by injury and doubt that travelled south to Nelson for their next match and then to Dunedin for the first test only twelve days away. 

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