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South Africa 3 /North-Auckland 0

The second match against North Auckland played in extreme weather conditions in Whangarei didn’t help the Springboks’ cause; the Springboks were desperate to not only win but also to play well but the wet underfoot conditions made it impossible to play proper rugby.

There was general agreement that the Springbok pack was outplayed by the Waikato forwards the previous week and Craven was determined to rectify this situation as the ’56 forward pack was bigger and heavier than the renowned Springbok pack of 1937. Maxwell Price who toured with the Springboks in 1956 wrote in his book ‘Springboks at bay’: “I had the impression that the air travel did not allow the team to build up their strength in the way a sea journey would have done. Both the 1921 and 1937 sides crossed to Australasia by ship and had plenty of time for exercise on board. In 1937, in fact the forwards shovelled coal on the Ulysses. Six of the once made the regular stokers goggle by shifting sixty-nine tons of it in the course of four hours.”

On another place Price writes that the Springbok forward play had developed a different slant –in comparison the pack of 1937 and All Black rugby- since contact with the British teams in 1952 and 1955. The South African forward play in his opinion was not the scrummaging machine of old as South African forwards were all trained to link with the backs and not on contesting as fiercely as the Kiwi teams at the rucks. New Zealand teams on the other hand in their desire to restore lost rugby prestige had been undergoing an entirely different metamorphosis. At the cost of backline play New Zealand rugby had been concentrating on a closer knit scrum, vigorous rucking, close line-out work and a scrum of eight playing as one.

By the time the Springboks arrived in Whangarei on the Sunday a phenomenal amount of rain had fallen in Whangarei –almost double the normal average- but Craven was livid after Hamilton and had the team training for two hours in pouring rain on the Monday. Esmonde Doherty of the Auckland Star wrote that the ferocity of the training session in conditions so cold that New Zealand teams would not have ventured outside was something that had never been seen before in New Zealand.

The weather got worse as the week progressed and by match time on the Wednesday Rugby Park was a sea of semi-congealed mud which in places was as much as four inches deep. Within minutes of the kick-off the field was a quagmire, the players indistinguishable, and skilled play an impossibility, writes Warrick Roger in his book ‘Old Heroes’. At half time half a dozen milking-shed buckets full of water were brought onto the field so the players could wash the mud from their eyes.

These two photos show the extreme conditions in which this match was played. In the top picture the mud smeared players lined-up for a lineout of which there were 123 during the match. The Springboks from front to back is Bertus van der Merwe, Harry Newton-Walker, Chris de Nysschen, Jaap Bekker, Chris de Wilzem and Jan Pickard. The bottom picture show P Erceg with the ball and Harry Newton-Walker trying to turn him while the mud smeared players from both sides are approaching the join the mud wrestle.

The Springboks struggled to settle down in these extreme conditions while North Auckland started with such a hiss and a roar that the South Africans in the crowd seriously feared yet another defeat. The Springboks were unable to clear from the scrums and Ulyate –in his return match after injury- on flyhalf and Strydom at scrumhalf found their attempts to short kick, snipe around the fringes or run with the backline impeded by the mud.

'Poppye' Strydom the Free State scrumhalf found his attempts to short kick and snipe around the fringes impeded by the mud and flat lying defenders.

A realisation that the box kick and soccer style foot rushes (fly-kick for lack of a better word) instead of picking the ball up were better tactics to use in these conditions were however slowly dawning on them.

Johan Claassen remembers, ‘I was struck by two things in New Zealand in 1956 – both in the first game we played against Waikato, which we lost. First was the way they applied the up-and-under as a method of attack; second, the so-called rucks. I remember that Ponty Reid several times passed to Don Clarke at fullback, who put up a tremendous up-and-under. It goes without saying that whoever was under the kick received more than just the ball. As the tour progressed, I came to the conclusion that this pattern of play was more or less the style throughout New Zealand.’

It was De Wilzem –the Free State lock- and Pickard the Western Province lock who adjusted first and who turned the match around for South Africa. De Wilzem started to foot rush (fly-kick) like the kiwi’s and followed the ball up with speed and aggression producing in the process his best match on tour. Jan Pickard -instead of giving the ball to his scrumhalf after catching it in the lineout- started to step-out of the lineout and box kicked it with either left foot or right foot over the lineout into empty spaces. The rest of the forwards started to rush through and applied pressure on the North Auckland backline and in doing so created some forward momentum.

This picture shows Pickard’s approach in New Zealand; stepping out of the lineout after catching the ball and then hoisting a box kick. How he did that as a lock without getting swamped by his direct opposition does boggle my mind but apparently he started this practice in the North Auckland game and proceeded with it throughout the tour.

Clive Ulyate also found his feet and began to direct high diagonal kicks into no-man’s land for his three-quarters to follow up. Ulyate’s poise and assurance were the brightest features of the second half, writes Terry McLean. He also writes that the second half contained a good deal of Ulyate’s kicking and although some it is was wanting in precision because he was wanted in match practice it were pressure kicks. It was these kicks which led to a premature jump of joy by Strydom for a dot down by van der Merwe, a gallant attempt by de Nysschen to gain a try and, the ultimate reward a try to Montini in which du Preez had a lion’s share with a deft kick ahead of the slithering ball. Montinini had a change of another try from an almost precisely similar series of incidents, but as he started at the ball, like a man confronted with a cobra or an income-tax demand, Wright arrived at high speed to kick it dead.

Clive Ulyate the Springbok flyhalf - a weekend golfer with a 4 handicap and a Transvaal cricketter- impressed with his poise and assurance in this match. He went into the game wanting in game time due to a injury in Australia but soon find his feet in the mud and started to dictate, directing proceeding with his tactical kicking to the extend that South Africa scored the only try of the match and almost three more rushing through on his well placed diagonal kicks. Here Ulyate is on the ground after getting tackled by Wright. The other two Springboks in the picture are Jan du Preez and Basie Viviers.

So, slowly but surely the Springboks –who found the going grim in the first 30 minutes of the game and who were lucky not to have leaked several tries up to that stage- began to get on top. Pickard kicked high from the line-out and the rest of the forwards tore into the ball and rucks; Van der Merwe dominated in the tight phases and Ulyate continued with his diagonal kicking. Eventually one of these kicks brought dividends when Montini followed through on one such a kick and dot down for the solitary try and points of the match. There were as mentioned above at least two other close calls with du Preez and van der Merwe crossing the line but the referee ruled ‘no try’ on both occasions.

The Montini try was not without controversy as he appeared to have been in front of du Preez when the last mentioned toed the ball on.

IN the last 28 minutes the Springboks controlled very nearly all writes McLean but the North Aucklanders did make a break or two and there was always the hope in the spectator’s minds that something would turn up, even if it was only a penalty goal.

In the conditions the North Auckland game plan was very similar to the Waikato approach three days earlier. They punted for touch or more usually for open spaces unfortunately most of these kicks fell within easy reach of Viviers (in the picture above with van Vollenhoven who didn’t had a good game), who seldom suffered the embarrassment of having to move his heavy frame to swiftly through the mud, writes McLean in his book ‘The battle fro the rugby crown’.

The home fullback Dixon Wright played well in the difficult conditions and was according to some reports the best back on the field. Eastwood on wing outplayed van Vollenhoven who struggled in the mud while the Jones (lock) and Dean (flanker) dominated the lineouts and were prominent in the loose. Strydom and Ulyate played well after initially struggling to find their feet in the mud and Pickard, de Wilzem and van der Merwe were the best Springbok forwards.

Everyone kicked in the match even the man who would break the camels back in the fourth test. The outstanding loose forwards of the 1956 series Peter Jones shown here playing for North Auckland against the Springboks. 

Jan du Preez ready to make a tackle early in the match.