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Canterbury 9 / South Africa 6

This match was a turning point in terms of the media and public’s (in both countries) relationship with Craven and the 1956 Springbok team.

Terry McLean writes: This was the day that Canterbury, for the second time in three encounters, defeated South Africa, this was the night that Danie Craven, after telling me that he was not a happy man, said a critical piece about refereeing in New Zealand, this was the week-end in which he made an official complaint about the quality of New Zealand refereeing and this was the succeeding week in which angry passions were stirred in the backrooms of newspaper offices, both South African and New Zealand, that the Grey River Argus felt impelled to say, “Sour grapes, Dr Craven –very sour grapes indeed!”

The 1956 team was not a particularly happy touring group and struggled to find their feet right from the start of the New Zealand leg of the tour after losing the first match against Waikato. The Springboks had a hard time adjusting to the wet playing surfaces, the rainy/muddy conditions, the flat lying and rush-up defensive style of the New Zealand teams but in particularly with the kick and charge/marauding foot rush tactics of the New Zealand teams. The rucks were a nightmare for the Springboks and they were at loss how to counter the locals’ aggression, structure and ascendency at the tackle ball.

The battle at the breakdown was once again the primary reason why the Springboks lost this match as they won the scrums 11-9 and the line-outs 34-29. It was the rucks they failed in and it was clear for all to see that the Canterbury pack although lighter were the better coached pack that were moving forward most of the time.  

South Africa’s tendency to play with fast/light loose forwards –mostly hanging loose calling and waiting like seagulls to swoop in on the spills - where at least one reason why they could not compete with the locals at the rucks/tackle ball, according to the New Zealand rugby scribes. After this match the kiwi media questioned Captain Salty du Rand for not calling for more assistance in the tight play from his seagulls. When the Springboks won the second test with Pickard in the loose trio due to injury to Ackermann even the South African media started to call the Springbok loose forwards (Lochner, Ackermann and Retief) seagulls (seemeeue) as this picture indicate.

There was an epic battle going on in the line-out between Claassen and du Rand on the one side and Hill and Duff on the other side. This battle as well as the contest in the scrums evened up towards the latter part of the game due to the referee’s unwillingness to attack a problem of wilful obstruction.  

This picture shows Bertus van der Merwe swing his arm wildly in the line-out with Claassen, Buxton and Young in the background.

It was this issue (wilful obstruction) –which cost South Africa two tries- and a prolonged ruck resulting in the winning penalty in the last 10 minutes of the match that irked Craven so much that he launched an official complaint about the standard of refereeing the Springboks had encountered on tour. Craven’s complains about refereeing did not, as mentioned before, go off well and was to a large extend the tipping point; turning both public and media against the tourists. The negativity grew in magnitude in the weeks to follow due to incidents in the second test and thereafter. Warwick Roger explains in his book ‘Old Heroes’:

The effect of Craven’s complaints on the New Zealand public was sensational. In correspondence columns up and down the country he was attacked by rugby fans, most of them hiding behind pseudonyms. Letters and telegrams, few of them pleasant, many down-right offensive, began to arrive at the team’s hotels. The dislike of the Springboks as a pack of dirty players who started the rough stuff in games took on an added dimension; they were also a pack of whingers. Now dislike of them began to verge on hatred. This manifested itself at the games in the form of sustained booing. In the second test when Basie Viviers was lining up to take a kick, a bottle was thrown at him.

The South African media also turned against Craven accusing him of being a poor loser. Angry and perplexed by their team performing below expectations the ‘filthy press’ -as Craven called them- grew tired of excuses. R.K. Stent, sports editor of the Cape Times started to keep a running tally of the Craven excuses (see table below).

Craven’s excuses

The Air Trip

Craven in Australia at the end of May: ‘It was a blunder to send us over here by plane. After we had been here some time we were still not a team. A sea voyage would have had a happier effect.’

A Minor Flight Mishap

At the same time (end of May): ‘The failure of one of the engines on the air journey was nerve-wracking. The boys were brave, of course, but the fact that they took it calmly did not lessen the effect.’


In June: ‘I believe that the fact that we decided to use the special lightweight boots may have had something to do with thigh injuries.’

The Trails

In July: ‘The Newlands trails in April and the preparation for the tour were too hurried.’

Final week before leaving

‘I had to hurry the team through a programme of exercises to fit them quickly for the tough programme ahead.’


At the same time (final week before leaving): ‘Tension has played its part in handicapping the course of the tour.’

Further Flight

‘The hurried flight from Australia helped to precipitate further tension.’


‘Because of injuries the team has never had two packs for practices.’


‘The team has carried slender reserves all time –often only 11 fit forwards and nine fit backs.’


Maxwell Price commented earlier this month (July 1956): ‘Although Dr. Craven refused to discuss it. I know that the tour committee has had to rebuke players for a too light-hearted attitude towards the tour.’

Too much sitting

‘Ever since we left South Africa we have been sitting –in hotels, in taxis, or in buses . . . .‘


‘The food in Australia was excellent ad we were able to get more than our share of meat, but greens do not form the staple diet they do in South Africa . . . Perhaps (who knows?) this might have caused certain deficiencies.’


‘The possibility that the exercises are too hard. It takes three weeks to build up muscle, and we barely had two weeks before we started playing, and this is not enough to build up muscles properly.’

And another thing

‘Before matches start certain ceremonies take place which last 10 to 15 minutes. Athletes have proven that it is better not to warm up at all than to warm up and get cold before a race . . . ‘

By the end of July 56 the list had grown to 18 reasons. Most were regarded as probably genuine but the consensus in the media was that Craven would have done better not to have made the remarks publically at all.

The match itself –that stirred all these emotions and consequences- writes McLean was magnificent. A real rugby match. The sight of the eight Canterbury forwards resolved and relentless in structured and cohesive forward ascendency was according to McLean -as a spectacle- comparable with a 300-yard golf drive, a sensational backhand in tennis and/or a four minute mile in athletics.

The game began hectically with Buxton (No7) scoring in the third minute. Duff (No4) barged through a line-out and handed to Hill on the blindside after running over Buchler. Hill sold a dummy before passing to Hern. Hern (no1) then passed to Buxton who scored wide out. Buchler was carried off the field on a stretcher but returned 10 minutes later to play a courageous match.  

This picture shows the run up to the Canterbury try. Lock forward R Duff charged out of a line-out and ran over Buchler before sending the ball wide. It was flanker Buxton who eventually scored. Here Buchler is tackling Duff. Buchler received a blow against the neck with this tackle and left the field on a stretcher. He was off the field for 10 minutes.

Ulyate moved to fullback with Howe and Lochner being moved to flyhalf and centre respectively. Right from the kick-off Canterbury got penalised thirty-five yards out almost right in front of their post. Jeremy Nel –an inexperienced kicker- succeeded with the goal kick to make the scores 3 all.

The Canterbury forwards impressed right from the start and it was soon evident write Maxwell Price that they were a magnificent, well-drilled force that at times engulfed the Springboks with their fierce rucks and steamroller rushes. Hill, Duff, Hern and Buxton played exceedingly well. This pressure upfront culminated in a penalty for Canterbury in the eighteenth minute when Lochner threw himself at Hill –competing fiercely for a ball- on the Canterbury side of the ruck. Henderson (No12) kicked the goal to make the score 6-3.

It was Strydom outplaying Vincent close to the scrums that kept South Africa in with a change. For Canterbury from the original sin of slowness at halfback, most of their problems of back play developed, writes McLean. Had the Canterbury backs been of a comparable standard to the forwards they could have won by more than 9 points in McLean's opinion. 

Pat Vincent the incumbent All Black Captain and Canterbury scrumhalf didn’t had a good game. It was his slowness behind the scrum that kept South Africa in with a change. This picture shows Vincent getting tackled by Springbok hooker Bertus van der Merwe.  

The Springbok scrumhalf on the other hand had an outstanding game. This picture shows the courageous little ‘Poppye’ Strydom in process of tackling All Black lock forward Tiny Hill (I am actually not convinced it's Strydom doing the tackling here as the picture inscription indicate. It looks more like Jaap Bekker to me and according to jersey numbering system used in 1956 No 15 was a prop). What this picture also shows is the team work of the Canterbury pack in taking the ball up and the Springboks lack of structure at the tackle ball. Notice how close the Canterbury forwards are to each other as well as the speed and aggression evident in their body positions and facial expressions in contrast to the Springbok being wrong footed, almost stationary and in no position to compete and help No15 once he have made the tackle.

The Springbok backline had the best of the backline play and Howe and Nel made some snipping breaks at times. The Springboks scored after one of these breaks by Nel but at least three more such breaks saw real try scoring changes go astray; one due to poor decision making and two as a result of blatant obstruction.

The first opportunity for the Springboks to score came just after Buchler returned to the field. Howe made a neat break putting Kirkpatrick in space. Kirkpatrick put in a fine run against the left hand touchline but his inside pass to Nel went astray because Nel was held back through jersey pulling by a defender. A few minutes later Briers with a change to score in the corner decided to cut inside and ran into trouble.

In the twenty-third minute the Springboks evened up the score 6 all when Howe ran through for a brilliant try. Howe made a decoy run which allowed Ulyate –receiving the ball from a scrum- to send Nel through a gap. Howe then came back to link with Nel and with the defence spread-eagled Howe was able to cross for the try. Buchler missed with the conversion.

The Springboks continued to attack, with Retief and Koch prominent in the forward rushes, but there was no cohesion about their efforts. It was obvious by the end of the first half that the Springboks would have to pull something extra out of the bag to win.

The second half saw the Canterbury forwards staging attack after attack on the Springbok line utilizing forward rushes and dribbles. These forwards drives and foot dribbles succeeded mostly because of the Springbok inside players being hesitant in falling on the ball or in competing at the tackle to obtain forward momentum. The Canterbury forwards deserved a try but they kept sending the ball to the backs who mishandled badly at times to mess-up opportunity after opportunity.

The game was played mostly in the South African half of the field and it was Claassen stealing line-out ball and Strydom and Retief with a couple of breakaway clearances that helped in keeping the Cantabarians from scoring and in providing momentarily relief from the constant pressure.

Ulyate also turned out the master tactician and his cleverly placed short kicks frequently had the Canterbury backs scrambling to cover up.

The Springboks were still dangerous when they had possession and with Howe again acting as a decoy, Nel burst through with Briers in support on his right. Briers was however held back by a defender in clear view of the press box. The Springboks continued the pressure. A scrum followed and the Springboks put in a mighty effort pushing Canterbury over the line and Lochner claimed a touch-down. The referee ruled a dead ball arguing that a Canterbury player got to the ball first and ordered a kick from the twenty-five. 

This picture shows the blocking of Briers by one of the Canterbury players close to their goal line. General consensus was that Briers would have scored if not for the blocking.

Canterbury now took the initiative and launched attack after attack on the Springbok line. There was eight minutes left on the clock when the referee allowed a ruck to go on for two long culminating in the winning penalty for Canterbury. There were lots of unhappiness about this penalty as the Springboks felt that the ball was being played by players lying on the ground and that some of the Canterbury forwards were standing in offside positions preventing the South Africans to get to the ball.

Dr Craven was furious about this incident and the off the ball obstruction of Nel in the first half and Briers in the second half when they had clear runs to the goal line. Questioned about his official complaint regarding the standard of refereeing Craven said the next day that he would not like to detract from Canterbury’s win but that he felt the ruck went on way to long. He also mentioned the two incidents where Nel and Briers were blatantly held back. Mr McNeil the referee was quoted in the newspaper as well stating that the ruck could not have been ended legally as the ball was visible and being worked all the time.

Terry McLean writes as follows about these two incidents:

The worst was the award of the penalty, eight minutes from no-side, which Henderson turned into a goal from only 20 yards. Some say that the preceding ruck went on for a minute. I could not believe this, but could not hope to disbelieve the evidence of my own eyes, which said that the ruck had passed the point of no return a substantial number of seconds before the referee decided that Retief had been at fault in backing into it and trying to kick the ball to Strydom.

The trouble was that, even while the ball was undoubtedly visible, so many forwards on each side were prostrate upon the ground that no possible tactical advantage could be expected to develop.

The greatest misfortune was that two Springboks, Nel in the first half and Briers in the second half, were tackled out of movements from which they seemed certain to score and before they had so much as touched the ball.

He went on and said that these incidents detract from a deserved victory and in the pride New Zealanders felt in the performance of the Canterbury team.

The Springbok team who played in this match were: Buchler; Briers; Nel; Howe; Kirkpatrick; Ulyate; Strydom; Lochner; Retief; Claassen; du Rand; de Wilzem; Koch; van der Merwe; Bekker.

All the Canterbury backs who played in this match except the second five-eight Henderson were All Blacks. Duff, Hill and Buxom in the pack were All Blacks while Hugh Burry, Dennis Young and Wilson Whineray also later represented their country.

The Canterbury team were: K Stuart; R Smith; A Elsom; M Dixon; SK Henderson; SG Bremner; P Vincent; N Roberts; J Buxton; R Duff; SF Hill; H Burry; WJ Whineray; D Young; E Hern.