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20 June 1956 - Manawatu-Horowhenua

Manawatu-Horowhenua 3 / South Africa 14 

A bewildered Springbok team arrived in Palmerston North; brutalised by the ferocity of the on-field contests; mercilessly abused in the media; labelled as dirty and stereotyped as boring in how they approach and play the game.

Essentially, the media and public were outraged regarding the brutal nature of the Auckland contest -which included the kicking of players lying on the ground-, and the unrestricted punching and the soccer foot rush (or ball dribble) style of play witnessed so far on tour. The undercurrent theme of the media onslaught was that the Springbok forwards were turning to dirty and spoiling tactics (kicking, punching, pulling and shoulder charging) because they couldn’t handle the pressure.

Craven –while discussing the origins of rugby namely that Webb Ellis picked up a soccer ball and started running with it – was asked in a smugly kind of way ‘What do you think will happen if someone pick up the ball on this tour and start running with it?’

Craven was essentially scapegoated for the lack of open play witnessed in the first three tour matches. It takes of course two to tango and fact is the Springboks were, so far, the only team that scored backline tries in spite of the being confronted with spoiling rush-through tactics at scrums, line-outs and rucks.

New Zealand, however, was a nation obsessed with beating the Springboks; the spectators one-eyed; the home team support extreme and vocal; the booing venomous; the on-field challenges brutal and focussed on preventing the Springboks from playing their natural game; the media vilification of the Springboks bordering on being imprudent.

New Zealand was not- at least at this stage- in a mind-set of accepting responsibility for the brutal and boring nature of the matches. The truth is that foot rushes, flat lying defensive lines at line-out and rucks and box kick rush through tactics was not part of the South African style of playing in 1956 and the tourists had no idea how to deal with these tactics in the Waikato match. They started adjusting by following example in the North-Auckland game mostly because the weather, field circumstances and opposition tactics did not allow them to run with the ball.

None of the sources sighted wants to point a finger as who was to be blamed for the stand-off in Auckland but it seems the New Zealand sides did not like it when they started to receive what they were dishing out (rushing defensive, spoiling, brutal aggressiveness in tackling and marauding foot rushes) and that culminated into a massive bust-up at Edenpark.

It was the venomous booing and the one-eyed media vilification that had manager Daniel de Villiers and Coach Danie Craven concluded that New Zealanders hated the South Africans and they were starting to contemplate whether it was worth continuing with the tour under these circumstances.

Aired while the Springboks were traveling via railcar to Palmy North a radio broadcast brought about a momentary change in attitude which put the tour right back on track. What struck a chord with thousands of New Zealanders was a statement -during the broadcast- that the on and off-the-field attitude towards the Springboks has been very un-New Zealand. Two surprising tour saving consequences stemmed from this broadcast; firstly, 5000 to 8000 people turned up at the Palmerston North Square to welcome the Springboks on arrival and; secondly, coach of the Manawatu combined team promised the public that they were going to play open rugby against the Springboks.

These classic memories of New Zealander John Sinclair regarding the Springboks arrival in Palmy can be found in ‘Old Heroes’:

I was at the beach with my family and listening to the radio with disgust at how un-New Zealand our attitude was to our visitors.

The mood of the Auckland send-off was certainly bitter. I said to the family, “Right, come on, we’re going back, I want to be there to welcome them.” The radio comment must have touched a chord because thousands turned up. I’d say, 3000 to 5000, but some estimated had 8000.

The railcar pulled up about 50 yards from the Commercial Hotel, where a wooden ramp had been made for the players to walk along into the foyer. I remember that Butch Lochner was in the back seat of the railcar and how he looked out aghast. All he could see was a gesticulating mob – in the gloom it must have looked like a lynch mob.

First out of the railcar was a quite apprehensive Basie Viviers. He looked around then ducked his head back in and said, “It’s all right, they’re for us!” and then he introduced each member as they ran along the ramp into the hotel.

Terry McLean agree that the two Palmerston North consequences of the radio broadcast – the famous welcoming parade and the commitment to play open rugby- were instrumental in re-establishing the tour as a sporting contest.

Manawatu’s commitment to the open game is one of three things that get emphasized in four sources consulted about this game. The other two being the fact that the Springboks only really got going in the second half and the good performances of Koch and Dryburg.

Manawatu was criticised, especially afterwards, for playing in the enemy’s hands. Yet it is doubtful that they could have done much better, even by playing the tight game writes Mclean. Out of a willing and consistent attempt to play open rugby Manawatu gained a good deal of satisfaction, as well as not little praise.

On their side the Springboks responded most cheerfully to the challenge of open rugby and in the second half, despite the rain a good many passing rushes were made culminating in two splendid tries.

The home team fielded the 1953 All Black Stu Freebairn on the wing and Brain Finlay, the inside centre (second five-eight), later won a test cap as a flanker. Blair Manners who led the combined team had been spoken of as a possible All Black for some time. This was the first combined team that played against the Springboks during the 1956 tour. The team consisted of players from Manawatu (Palmerston North and Feilding clubs) and Horowhenua (Levin, Foxton, Shannon and Rahui clubs). The combined Manawatu-Horowhenua team had played in four warm-up games (see below) before they came up against the Springboks.

 Information about the teams that played in this match

Continuous pre-match rain and intermittent downpours during the match turned the field into a muddy morass. It was not easy playing circumstances; the field was slippery; the footing heavy and uncertain; the wind strong, sweeping, and cold but both teams put in a genuine effort to run with the ball and an attractive game resulted.

The 22 000 record crowd went wild with delight in the 12th minute when Manawatu scored first with Freebairn diving on the ball when van Vollenhoven tried to dribble a ball in his in-goal area into touch. Dryburg evened the scores with a splendid 40-yard penalty a few minutes later and then added another from in front of the posts in the 21th minute.

Blair Manner, the Manawatu Captain, excelled in the lineouts, where he had the better of Pickard while the Springboks were struggling to hit their straps with the backline especially being guilty of angling a bit to sideways; Howe apparently being the main culprit.

Gradually the ‘Boks got their rhythm and started to dominate. Retief, de Nysschen and Pickard started to shake up the home forwards and after a series of fierce rucks Koch forced his way over from a lineout.

These two pictures shows Koch scoring his try against Manawatu combined. Koch, de Nysschen, de Wilzem and Retief had good games amongst the forwards while Ackerman plainly didn’t like the rain and wet and only moved when he had to according to McLean.

De Wilzem over the line for a try that was disallowed. First line of players in the background from left to right on the picture are Young (No8), Carroll (No3) and Piet du Toit on his knees with the head gear. On the ground Shaw (No15), de Nysschen, then de Wilzem and Neill (No9).

A close try. Van Vollenhoven going over the line with Retief and Ackermann celebrating in the background. Freebairn (wearing No2 which today will be No14) got his arms around van Vollenhoven with fullback Shaw sliding in from the left.

In the 2nd half the Springboks clearly looked the better side but it took them about 22 minutes before they scored when Strydom made a spectacular break and, when confronted by Shaw (No15), sent the ball infield to Ackermann, who ran in under the bar. Dryburg goaled to complete the scoring at 14-3.

While in Palmerston North, Dr. Craven and his management committee had decided finally to call for replacement from South Africa. The replacements named were Theunis Briers and James Starke.

This picture shows Theunis Briers at the airport with his wife hanging onto him while he seemingly is anxiously watching that the aeroplane does not leave without him. Briers was a huge success during the 1955 Lions series and there was general agreement that he with his great speed, weight and power would be first choice as wing for New Zealand. Briers, however, told the selectors at the start of the 1956 season that he would not be available for the trails and tour because of his impending marriage and farming duties.

This picture shows James Starke at the Cape Town airport with his Matie team mates. The choice of Starke came as a bit of a surprise to many in the touring party, pressmen and players alike. Starke as Captain of the Combined Cape Town and Stellenbosch University teams who toured Europe in 1955 was highly regarded and favoured to make the touring party at the start of the trails but didn’t impress during the trails.  

The Springbok team for this match was: Dryburg; Johnstone; Nel; Montini; van Vollenhoven; Howe; Strydom; Koch (Captain); van der Merwe; du Toit; Ackermann; Pickard; de Nysschen; de Wilzem; Retief.

The Manawatu scrumhalf Neill sending the ball to his back line. 

Line-out in the Manawatu match.