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16 June 1956 - Eden park, Auckland

Auckland 3 / South Africa 6

The third tour match against Auckland at Eden Park was disastrous for many reasons and had in many ways a lasting negative impact on the tour. This match changed the perception the New Zealand public had about the Springboks essentially leaving the kiwis very negative about the touring side. Warwick Roger recall how -as he walked home after having watched the match as a 11 year-old- the realisation dawned on him that the Springboks were not gods at all. He then relates how in the ensuing weeks they started kicking each other on the rugby field like the Springboks did against Auckland. An article in the Star stated on the Monday after the match that: ‘It was a rubbishy, unintelligent game . . . . . rugby at its most depressing . . . . exactly the sort of game that makes league fans out of rugby supporters.’

All accounts of this fixture assert to the fact that is was an awful match with both teams being incredibly, humiliatingly bad and more concerned to brawl, kick, punch and shoulder charge than to play rugby.

Auckland had a formidable team in 1956 with four All Blacks -John Tanner (No12), Keith Davis (No9), Jack Skeen (No4) and ‘Snow” White (No1)-, and three future All Blacks –Frank McMullen (No13), Terry Lineen (No11) and John Graham (No8). Dave Menzies (No14), ‘Munga’ Emery (No7) and Alby Pryor (No6) had represented New Zealand Maori while Dave Ludbrook (No8) had played for New Zealand universities. The Auckland team lost only two of its 14 games in 1956 and had not been beaten that particular season when they took the field against the touring Springbok side.

 Information about the teams that played in this match

It was still early in the tour. The interest immense; the official recorded attendance was 51,586. Spectators fluxed in from all over the North Island; some of whom passed the Friday night at an all-out cinema while others slept in the streets around Eden Park.

Warwick Roger remembers the tension before the match: The teams lined up for the national anthems then fanned out across the paddock. I was shivering the way I still do when I have to do something that frightens me. My hands shook and my stomach convulsed. A strange silence came over the crowd as we awaited the kick-off.

The Springboks having been beaten up front in the previous two matches was determined to turn the tide and start dominating the forward battle. This culminated into an all-out brawl starting from the very first scrum. John Graham who played No8 for the Auckland team relates the start of the match in Warwick Roger’s book ‘Old Heroes’:

The kick-off didn’t go ten yards so we went back to have the scrum on halfway. I was at the back of the scrum, where I hadn’t played before because I was a flanker for Varsity. The first scrum went down and ‘Snow’ White and Bekker, I think it was, were into each other, and I thought, “Christ, what on earth have I got myself into here?” I can still see it, the fist down here and coming up “whoof, whoof”.

The game itself was a big disappointment. The forward packs niggled at each other all afternoon and there was very little open play in spite of the fact that the game was played on a firm surface in brilliant sunshine. Auckland clearly entered the game with a preconceived idea that the way to beat the Springboks is to use robust tactics up front and to shut down backline play.

This was a surprising tactic considering that most of their star players were in the backline but a tactic probably based on the way Waikato had beaten the Springboks and the fact that the Springbok pack also did not convince against North-Auckland.

The Springboks lost two players in the backline –Basie Viviers and Jan du Preez- early in the match, due to injury, and the two flankers Ackermann and de Wilzem were posted to the wings. In spite of that the remaining 6 Springbok forwards stood up to the Auckland pack and the New Zealand team could not capitalise from the situation mostly because they neglected to utilize their classy backline. No attempt was made to run the ball until it was too late and the general feeling afterwards was that Auckland could have won the match if they had run the ball.

People just stopped thinking, says Graham in ‘Old Heroes’. It was bloody sad –we stopped thinking and got stuck into each other. The physical confrontation went on fort the whole game. My abiding memory is of the nastiness of it. If we kept our cool instead of boofing into them, we’d have won the game.

There was a lack of what has to be an accepted code in rugby of leaving people alone on the ground. I didn’t want to get involved. Alby and Munga said to me after the first few minutes, “Don’t you go near any of that bloody stuff. Anything along the lines of we’ll look after you.” This approach was definitely Maori –had that edge to it. These guys were all white, and Pryor and Emery had a physical feeling towards them.

The nastiness took on a new dimension when halfway through the second half –in plain sight of 15 000 people- a Springbok kicked three times in the direction of Geoff Perry as he lay on the ground. The crowd went ballistic and almost invaded the field. Venomous booing of extraordinary volume which lasted for several minutes broke out to be renewed afterwards whenever that particular Springbok became involved in play. The booing also pitched-up in volume on two occasions when Johan Claassen –with the place kicker Basie Viviers off the field- attempted penalty kicks at goal.

The Springboks, according to McLean claimed that Gentles –he had the sprig marks all over his back as proof- had been savaged by Perry and the offending Springbok became enraged and lashed out with all his force. 

This picture shows Tommy Gentles in action during the Auckland match. Gentles had a torrid time with only six forwards in the pack and on the top picture –taken after a line-out- he gets wrapped-up by Auckland winger Jack Tanner. Other players on the photo from left to right are G Perry, D Ludbrock, Jaap Bekker, H Emery, Walker and Pickard

There was no score until the 39th minute when Gentles kicked ahead from a lineout. The ball bounced infield and de Wilzem chasing after gave the ball a lusty kick out of fullback Brown’s hands towards the goal line. He followed-up and dived at the ball as it crossed the gaol line but missed. Ackermann was right behind de Wilzem and he was adjudged the only accurate diver among five or six other players who made madly-flurried attempts at getting their hands on the ball. Pickard failed to convert from an easy position.

It was Howe who made the Springboks’ second try when he thrust his way between Riley and Lineen before passing to Nel who found Ackermann in support. The speedy flanker playing on the wing streaked away for an outstanding try in the corner which Pickard again failed to covert.

McLean described Ackermann’s second try as follows: Six minutes after half time, Montini handled the ball for the first time at inside centre. That was how bad the game was. A few minutes later, Howe began his characteristic scud. Pryor nodded sleepily at it and Riley tried to terminate it by tackling high. The break was soon made. Once Nel was clear, Howe gave him the ball and the rush swept onward to Brown. Then the ball was passed to Ackermann and if the subsequent 40 yards were not covered in about 4 seconds flat, I will willingly jump into any nominated lake. It was a glorious run and a glorious try, from beginning to end.

Davis –with the two Springbok flankers posted on the wing- had a field day on No9 for Auckland and it was he who broke around the scrum in front of the post near the end of the game to produce Auckland’s only try by fullback Brown.

Brown flashed in from fullback and took the ball from Riley (No10) who got it from Davis after the latter sniped around a scrum. Brown however still had some work to do and scored out wide with Retief in deadly pursuit on his back.

Riley failed to convert Brown’s try and the final whistle went almost immediatley afterwards leaving the Springboks with a 6-3 victory.

Paul Johnstone who moved from wing to fullback in the first minutes after Viviers left the field with injury took to fullback with complete naturalness, perfect confidence and quite remarkable technique. The South African newspapers later regarded him to be the hero of the match.

From a South African perspective the two highlights of the match was without a doubt the way the Springbok forwards stood up to the challenge with two men short in the pack and the outstanding performances of the two flankers on the wing against the classy Auckland wingers –one an all Black the other a Maori representative player.  

De Wilzem making a tackle on the All Black wing Tanner who he had to mark in this match.

Rugby scribe E.H. Doherty wrote in the Auckland Star: ‘It was a notable victory for South Africa, but the tourists are still rather a problem team. They appear to have the potential to develop into dangerous combination.

But so far they do not appear to have developed this fully, though their forwards improved considerably to-day . . . They stuck fairly tough opposition in the Auckland team . . . To win after playing with only 13 men for three quarters of the match, was indeed a grand ‘Boks’ performance.’

Maxwell Price writes in his book ‘Springboks at bay’: ‘. . . the six Springboks forwards stove manfully against superior numbers. Pickard and Claassen were a tower of strength at the line-outs, and in the rucking, van der Merwe, Bekker, Walker and the remaining loose forward, Retief, all went in as one. It was a tonic to see those six forwards shaping so well in a sphere of the game where earlier opposition had virtually rucked our forwards into confusion.   

These three pictures shows the Springboks forwards in action in the Auckland game. The top picture shows Claasen, Pickard and Walker working hard at a ruck. The middle picture shows Jan Pickard winning a line-out ball catching it cleanly with two hands while Claassen and Walker supports. The bottom picture shows Jan Pickard on the charge taking on three Aucklanders (Emery going in for the tackle and Ludbrook closing in from the right on the picture).

The general feeling was that the Springboks must improve considerably if they are to win the test series.

The immediate concern was however the fact that the Springboks had suffered two more injuries and the questions of replacements took on a new intensity after it having been a burning point since the injury to Basie van Wyk in Australia. Rosenberg had aggravated his injury against Waikato and looked a doubtful starter for the rest of the tour. Both fullbacks, Viviers and Buckler, were injured along with Ulyate, du Preez, Hanekom (injured in Australia), du Rand, Pfaff and Kirkpatrick.

An injured Basie Viviers leaving the field in the first minute of the match against Auckland.

Craven was reluctant up to this stage to request for replacements and the South African media –in New Zealand and in South Africa- were demanding to know why Craven had not called for substitutions. On the eve of the match against Auckland the tour management committee received a cable from the Johannesburg Sunday Express offering to carry the traveling cost of the Transvaal centre Joe 

Kaminer, or any other player who might be required.

The list of injured players had now reached a stage were Craven had no option than to ask the NZRFU to fly out two replacements.