The Grand Slam is a relatively modern term coined to either represent a full house of wins by one Six Nations country over the other five participating nations or a full house of wins by a touring Southern Hemisphere team over the four United Kingdom (UK) home unions.
The term Grand Slam was first used in 1933, by the American journalist John Kieran. In describing the attempt that year by Jack Crawford to win all four titles, he compared it with "a countered and vulnerable grand slam in bridge". Kieran singled out these four titles as being the biggest in tennis because, at the time, they were the main international championships held in the only four countries who had won the Davis Cup. Crawford failed to achieve the Grand Slam that year as he lost in the US Championships final to Fred Perry. It wasn't until 1938 that Donald Budge became the first person to achieve the Grand Slam. The expression Grand Slam, initially used to describe the winning of the tennis major events, was later incorporated by other sports, notably golf, to describe a similar accomplishment.
Considering that each of the four UK teams (and France) generally play a different style and have different strengths and weaknesses a Grand Slam is, in terms of adaptability, probably a greater feat than winning a series against one country.
The following table contains the results of end of year tours since 1906.
The Boks have achieved the Grand Slam four times, in 1912/13, 1931/32, 1951/52 and 1960/61 (the 1912 and 1951 sides also beat France). If you consider France as part of the Grand Slam then the boks have only achieved it in 1912/13, 1951/52 with a close call in 1960/61 when they drew the last test against France.
I’ve seen and heard remarks that South Africa have not achieved a Grand Slam in 52 years, namely since 1960. That is technically correct BUT we’ve only played all four home nations twice on the same EOYT (1998 and 2004) since 1960. In 1998 the Springboks under Nick Mallett and Gary Teichmann were on track to do it, and also set a world record of 18 successive victories, but lost their last test against England at Twickenham. The last time we attempted a Grand Slam was in 2004 when we lost two (Ireland and England) and won two (Scotland and Wales). This was the tour where Jake White motivated the Irish to the extreme two days before the test when he said none of the Irish players (or did he refer to only one of the Irish props and it somehow got lost in translation) are good enough to play for Maties; they are a side with sub-standard players that don't have -per implication- a snowball's change in hell to win the Springboks. Jake's remark -specifically the fact that it enraged and motioned them to kamakazi like exaltation- was thought by many to be the primary reason why we lost against Ireland. It was of course also the match in which O'Gara took a quick tap kick and scored while Smit was still talking to his team on instruction from the referee.
Since 1992 the Boks achieved five mini-slams (1994, 1996, 1997, 2007 and 2008) by winning all their test matches but unfortunately didn’t play all four the home nations on those tours. In 1997 when Mallet took over from Carel du Plessis the boks -after winning Australia 61-22 in Carel’s last test- proceeded to win all five their EOYT tests namely against Scotland, England, two against France and one against Italy. This is as close as you can get to a Grand Slam. There can be little doubt that the 1997 team would’ve pocketed a Grand Slam if they had played all four UK teams on that tour. In 2008 the Springboks went north on the back of a 53-8 demolition job on the Wallabies at Ellis Park and beat Wales 20-15, Scotland 14-10 and England 42-6, another mini slam that could have been a big slam had we play all four the home nations.
Here is a newspaper article of the match against Wales in 1994 which South Africa won 20-12. The outstanding rugby the South Africans played elicit a standing ovation, after the match, from the Welsh crowd.
Overall the Springboks have played in 66 tests against the big guns (excluding Italy and the two tests so far this year) on EOYT’s since 1906 and have won 65% of those tests, losing only 27%. That is an extra-ordinary achievement considering not only all the political and off the field obstacles the Springboks had to deal with, over the years, but also the different players, playing styles, playing surfaces they encountered on these tours. In 1912 for instance the boks had to play a match against Swansea on a sopping St. Helen’s field (see photo below) and lost 0-3, however, the team overcame that disappointment and went on and won all four test matches in the UK and then beat France as well to top it off for a Super Grand Slam.
The St. Helen’s field was so filled with water that the boks used the puddles on the field to watch the mud of their arms and faces as this picture shows.
Cardiff Arms Park was also a see of mud and water when Wales and the Springboks met in 1912.
On the photo below Duggie Morkel is shown in the act of kicking the decisive penalty which gave his team victory against Wales on a muddy Cardiff Arms Park in 1912.
In 1960 –when the team under Avril Malan also achieved a Grand Slam- Cardiff Arms Park was completely flooded when the boks met Wales (see picture below). Chris Greyvenstein writes about this match:
“In a few hours Avril Malan and his Springboks are due to meet Wales on Cardiff Arms Park and you look at the field, lying there like a soaked green blanket with the chocolate-coloured water of the River Taff lapping at the edges, and you wonder if it would be necessary for the Springboks to leave their Hotel. A test match can surely not be played under such conditions.”
The 1969/70 "betoger" tour was a gut wrenching experience for the Springboks. The English media and general public were protesting in harsh and extreme ways against the tour and everywhere the team went there were people shouting insults and profanities. They had to play matches behind barbwire fences and one has to read Gerhard Viviers book "Rugby agter doringdraad" to appreciate the amount of "hateful" insults, the general neagtivity, and the extreme difficult circumstances under which this Springbok team had to tour and play. This team could manage no more than to draw two of the four tests but won the last so called "fifth test" against the barbarians. A match in which Jan Ellis scored two absolutely brilliant tries.
Jan Ellis in the match against the barbarians during the 1969/70 tour
Looking at performances against the individual Northern Hemisphere teams, during EOYT’s, it is clear that England is the only NH team that were able to stand up against the Springboks, over the years. The Springboks share a 50/50 record with the POMS having played 15, drawn one and won and lost 7. Wales have never won SA during an EOYT (there was a draw in 1969/70 and we lost once against them but that was in a one off match in June 1999 and not an official EOYT) and the Springboks have a 93% (13 won out of 14 played) success record against them on EOYT’s. The Boks have a 69% (9 wins out of 13 played) record against the Scots, a 58% (7 out of 12) record against the Irish and a 58% (7 wins out of 12) record against France on EOYT’s.
The All Blacks, who were unable to pull it off while the Boks were dominating world rugby have three modern Grand Slams to their credit since the term entered rugby’s lexicon – ’78, ’05 and ’08 and, having beaten England, look to be heading for another this year.
The Wallabies have managed a Grand Slam only once, in 1984, and fondly refer to Mark Ella’s Grand Slam team, but also have to bear the cross of being the only ones to suffer a Grand Slam of defeats against the Home Unions in 1957/58.
South Africa worst year was in 2002 under Rudolph Straeuli and Corné Krige when they lost all three their EOYT matches, 6-12 against Scotland, 3-53 against England and 10-30 against France; a mini reverse Grand Slam. Fortunately, they didn’t play all the home nations on that tour or we would have shared this terrible honour with the Aussies. That 3-53 loss against England was without a doubt the lowest low in the history of Springbok rugby.
May I never experience another day like that!
Team photo of the first Springboks.