The last time the Wallabies won on the Highveld (prior to the loss in 2010 in Bloemfontein) were in 1963 when they won two of the four tests to level the series.
They lost the first test (14-3) at Loftus Versveld; won the second (9-5) at Newlands and the third one (11-9) at Ellis Park; losing the last one (22-6) at Boet Erasmus in Port Elizabeth.
This 1963 series was interesting for a number of reasons but most importantly because the Wallaby success in this series was the result of a significant change in their approach towards the game. I wrote about this in some of my previous posts (65 Springboks in Australia) and referred in particular to the influence of a man by name of Norman McKenzie on Australian rugby.
McKenzie after making a thorough study of New Zealand rugby started to promote the idea of pattern rugby in Australian; that is that Australia should start playing with less freedom and more structure and discipline and precision, on the basis of strong forward play. The main trust was that Australia should reduce the freedom and frilleries in their play and start concentrating upon careful, calculated planning, the reduction of mistakes to the lowest possible number, and the development of team-play to the kind of pattern favored for many years in New Zealand.
Chris Greyvenstein writes about this in his book Springbok Saga:
The 1963 Wallabies became the first touring side team to beat the Springboks in two consecutive test since the Lions of 1896. This was an Australian side with a difference.
Gone was the unpredictability, and flair which used to impress us so much that we always wanted to follow suit and frequently came to grief as a result.
In its place was a new approach; the 1963 Wallabies rarely took risks, their backs were defenders first and foremost and unless they received the ball quickly and cleanly they did not attempt to attack.
This side was captained by John Thornett who also played against South Africa in 1961 in a match in which they were so thoroughly beaten that he almost prayed for the final whistle to blow. The boks scored a record of 8 tries in that test in 1961 and won the two test series comprehensively.
This of course made the results of the 1963 series so much more significant especially if one considers that this Wallaby team then went on to beat the All Blacks in 1964 in Auckland, New Zealand and to win the 1965 series 2-0 against the Springbok team (1965 test series against Australia) touring through Australia on their way to New Zealand.
The Springboks were a dominant force in the game in 1963 with their massive pack and elusive and fast backline. Things were however not all kosher in Springbok land and political influences (broederbond and national party politics) were starting to impact on selection of players especially the captains. There was an unnecessary amount of chopping and changing to the team as the table below demonstrates. This impacted on the Springbok team as much, if not more than improvements in the game of the Australians.
Table 1: Springbok teams in the four tests against the 1963 Wallabies.
Frik du Preez
Stompie v/d Merwe
Avril Malan (Captain)
Stompie v/d Merwe
Stompie v/d Merwe
Abie Malan (Captain)
Abie Malan (Captain)
Green dropped and later brought back; Red dropped and didn’t play again. Blue positional change
Four changes were made to the team that won the first test; Truter and du Preez (injury) permanently lost their places and didn’t play again in the series. Dave Steward and Gert Cilliers (groin injury) lost their places but was brought back in the third test; Cilliers in a different position (on the other wing just to be taken back again to his original position for the fourth test).
Team for the 3rd test: Back: Nelie Smith; Tommy Bedford; Norman RileyMiddle: Gert Cilliers; Haas Schoeman; Stompie v/d Merwe; Jannie Engelbrecht; Poens Prinsloo and Hannes MaraisFront: Ronnie Hill; Fanie Kuhn; Dave Steward; Avril Malan (Captain); John Gainsford and Lionel Wilson.
Notice no team manager and coach in the team photo above. It seems that no coach was appointed for this series. After the third test -with SA losing both the second and third tests- Abie Malan asked Hennie Muller to help preparing the team for the last test.
Eight changes were made to the Springbok team who lost the second test. Mannetjies Roux and Wang Wyness who were brought in for the second test lwere sacked and didn’t play again in the series as well as Piet Uys (dislocated shoulder).
Oxlee, Hopwood, Putter and Abie Malan was brought back for the fourth test; Abie Malan again as Captain while Avril Malan who replaced Abie for the third test as Captain was dropped for the fourth test.
The second test had been won by the tourists after their coach, Bill McLaughlin, famously changed their approach to the game.
“I’m sick of this ball straight to the 5/8 and kicking for touch” said McLaughlin.”
Australian teams have always been known for running the ball, and that’s what we’ll do from now on.”
Important to note here that they ran the ball from a solid and structured base of forward play and that was in essence what brought about the results; they didn’t go ballistic and started running with each and every ball or dropped big forwards for lighter players at the cost of a solid scrum and lineout play.
A total of 65 000 spectators turned out at Ellis Park for the third Test in the series.
The third Test was the 21st match of the Aussies on tour. Tours were incredibly long back then, at times spanning up to five or six months. The endurance of the players was incredible, and it’s a wonder they had anyone left after such a long time, with so many games.
The Wallabies did run the ball, as McLaughlin planned for them too, and they came away with the 11-9 win, thanks in part to two superb try saving tackles by the brilliant scrumhalf Ken Catchpole.
In danger of losing the series the selectors dropped no less than 7 players for the last test with an additional positional change (Cilliers as mentioned before). Engelbrecht, Riley, Prinsloo, Avril Malan, Hannes Marais and Fanie Kuhn all got axed. Oxlee, Hopwood, Abie Malan (back as Captain), Putter, Mof Myburg, Tiny Naude and Cora Dirksen were the replacements.
Abie Malan asked Hennie Muller to help with preparations for the final test and they decided to not make the same mistake as in the second test -namely to try and play 10-man rugby. Malan’s confidence and advice to the team, not to allow themselves to be too inhibited, had the desired effect.
The Springboks played their best rugby of the series despite the fact that the score was still 6 all with eight minutes to go. When Oxlee then nosed the Springboks in the lead with a penalty the Wallabies started to panic and Malan, Naude and Gainsford added tries in quick succession. This provided the Springboks with a rather flattering win of 22-6 to draw the series.