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4 August 1956 – Athletic park Wellington

South Africa 8 / New Zealand 3

The second test was an intense affair. One of the fiercest test matches ever between these two nations and not without its incidents and controversies. Spiro Zavos writes: “On a day when the wind was as direct and strong as a right-arm jab, the Springboks broke the All Blacks in the forwards into the wind, then, in the second half, smashed around the short side of the lineout twice to score the tries that won the game. This was the hardest game of rugby I’d ever seen. Players indulged in fist fights from the first scrum. In one memorable set-to, Dixon and Johnstone had a personal duel, oblivious to the play that carried on further down the paddock. That was the tone of the game and the series; nasty, hard and vicious.”

The Dixon/Johnstone incident can be seen in this video clip. 

This picture shows Paul Johnstone tackling Gray. Johnstone apparently had a personal duel with his direct opponent Dixon in this match after Dixon called him ‘yellow’. The battle between the two wingers intensified when Dixon a shrewd and crafty campaigner complained so loudly that the referee automatically awarded a penalty against Johnstone when the latter have done nothing wrong. Johnstone got so hoist with his own petard in trying to batter Dixon that he ended-up as one of the main culprits in the South African side when it comes to questionable off the ball actions during the game.

A number of incidences got an elaborated amount of post-match media attention notably an incident where Ian Kirkpatrick ‘kicked’ Tiny White while the latter was lying on the ground. This incident was repeatedly shown on New Zealand television and photographs (see below) of it were splashed on the front pages of most New Zealand newspapers for days after the event.   

This sequence of pictures was front page news in virtually every New Zealand newspaper after the second test. The South African newspapers also got hold of it and tried to make it off as pictures that could be interpreted in a number of ways obviously attempting to demonstrate that the pictures is not clear evidence that Kirkpatrick actually did kick White. The Dixon /Johnstone incident can also be seen in the right hand corner while the picture in the left hand corner shows an injured Salty du Rand literally being pushed off the field by the referee.

The intensity and belligerent nature of this match was a product in the first instance of the fact that SA was in a must win situation and secondly a consequence of the South Africans decision to start dishing out what they receive. Terry McLean writes:

The Springboks had but lately decided among themselves that all New Zealand sides play rough Rugby and that they must retaliate in self-defence; two Press photographers standing on the touchline at Masterton had expressed astonishment at some Springbok methods in that match and were told by Kirkpatrick that, in effect, “We have had enough; now we are going to get stuck in”; and it was Kirkpatrick who, as the film so graphically showed, barely restrained himself from a full-bloodied kick at White after the latter had tackled him.

It is obvious if one look at the video clip (click here) that White elicited Kirkpatrick’s retaliation with the lateness of his tackle and the confrontational manner in which he attempted to ‘smear’ an unwilling Kirkpatrick into the ground. He actually rides on Kirkpatrick’s back and tried so hard to force him into the ground that he topples over the repelling Kirkpatrick’s shoulders and fell on the ground. It was at that instant that an aggravated Kirkpatrick stomped him on the arm with his foot. This incident shows all the characteristics mentioned by McLean in the paragraph quoted above namely an All Black trying to rough a Springbok up and a Springbok quick to give back what he receive in retaliation because he had enough of the rough stuff constantly being handed to him and his team mates.

Another reason for the quarrelsome composition of this test match was the extreme competitiveness of Danie Craven. Spiro Zavos in Winters of Revenge labels Craven’s coaching methods as ‘maniacal’ and opinionated in no uncertain terms that it was Craven’s obsessive over-the-top behaviour that caused the tour to disintegrate into a violent affair on and off the field. Craven went to extreme lengths to prepare the players mentally for this test and the ‘boks fronted-up big time. Tiny White the New Zealand lock forward said afterwards that he knew within minutes after the start of the match that they were in trouble. Zavos in his book Winters of Revenge has the following about this test and Tiny White’s feelings at the start of the match: “The Springboks were forced to stare at a ball for fifteen minutes before the second test, at Wellington. They came out onto the blustery, rainy and icy-cold Athletic Park like men in a trance. The All Blacks played without intent or intelligence. Labouring in the second-row position, Tiny White sensed the awful feeling within minutes of the start that the game was already lost: ‘Nothing clicked. At times the other forwards were so far behind me I wondered if we were all in the same game.”

Basie van Wyk 'rolling the bones' (ala African witch doctors) to predict the outcome of the second test. Craven, Basie Viviers and Dawie Ackermann are attentive observers.


The All Black selectors made a total of five changes to the team that played in the first test. Four of these changes were in the forwards clearly indicating their concern at the failure of the New Zealand pack to gain control in the first test. Mark Irwin the Otago prop had his ribs cracked in the scrum by the Springboks in the first test and were replaced by team mate Frank McAtamney. The other replacements amongst the forwards were the hooker Ron Hemi, flanker John Buxton and No8 Tiny Hill who were dropped in favour Dennis Young, Bill Clark and Nev MacEwan respectively.

The other replacement was Mick Bremner in the flyhalf position due to injury to Robin Archer who played in the first test.

There were six changes to the Springbok side that played in the first test. Most of these were forced by injury. Viviers still not fully recovered from a thigh injury were selected in place of injured Dryburg (and injured first choice fullback Buchler); Briers was selected in place of injured du Preez and not fully recovered van Vollenhoven; Kirkpatrick was selected in place of injured Howe and Pickard in place of injured Ackermann. The other changes were Gentles in place of Strydom and Koch in place of Newton-Walker.

The real surprises were Viviers, Gentles and Koch. It was felt that Johnstone could have taken the fullback berth and that Strydom was by far the better scrumhalf so far on tour. There was also doubt about the inclusion of Jan Pickard on No8 (Lochner the first test No8 shifted to the flank for this test).

TP McLean in his book ‘Battle for the Rugby Crown’ has this enchanting paragraph about the selections of Springbok team for the second test:

Criticism by players in touring group about the team selected seemed justified in respect of Viviers, who could with advantage have been displaced by Johnstone, in respect of Ulyate, whose form had been so peculiarly inferior to his potential ability, in respect of Gentles, who till now had looked definitely inferior to Strydom, and in respect of both Pickard and Koch, who seemed to me not skilled in applying their full weight in scrimmage and ruck. Five possible weaknesses is a large hurdle even in a touring team; and when you add to that the dismaying effect of the inefficient display at Masterton and the bruising effect, in terms of the mercurial common temperament of the team, of the injuries to Buchler and Montini, it seemed obvious that the Springboks must take the field under a considerable handicap.  

The omission of Coenraad Strydom –the inform scrumhalf so far on tour- in favour of Tommy Gentles was a big surprise. Maxwell Price the South African journalist on tour with the Springboks reveals that Strydom was inconsolable after the loss in the first test. Strydom although playing extremely well in the first test had in the back of his mind the loss in his first test (third of that series) against the 1955 Lions. Gentles was brought back for the fourth test against the Lions in 1955 and the Springboks won that test. Gentles had a brilliant game in this second test but the South African newspapers as the subscript of this picture shows were feeling strongly for Strydom in the third test. Strydom as fate would have it played in only 6 test matches and apart from the two test wins against Australia at the start of the 1956 tour did not experience the sweat taste of winning a test match in any of the other test matches he played. Strydom was brought back for the fourth test in the 1956 series which the boks lost and played only in one more test after that namely against France in 1958 at Newland which was a 3 all draw.  

New Zealand


South Africa

PT Walsh


Basie Viviers (Capt)

Ron Jarden


Theuns Briers

RH Brown


Jeremy Nel

WN Gray


Ian Kirkpatrick

MJ Dixon


Paul Johnstone

Mick Bremner


Clive Ulyate

Pat Vincent (Capt)


Tommy Gentles

Nev MacEwan


Jan Pickard

WH Clarke


Daan Retief

DN McIntsh


Butch Lochner

Tiny White


Johan Claassen

RH Duff


Salty du Rand

Frank McAtamney


Jaap Bekker

Dennis Young


Bertus van der Merwe

IJ Clarke


Chris Koch

The springbok team that played in the second test.

It will probably come as no surprise to those aware of the All Blacks obsession with winning that I could not find a team photo of the All Black team that played in the second test of the 1956 series (that is in more than 7 sources at my disposal; all these sources -so by the way- features team photos of the sides that played in the other three test matches).

The New Zealand media and rugby public was almost in panic after the lost in the second test match and there was real concern about the All Blacks inability to contain the Springboks in the scrum.  

This picture is a typical example of the attention given to the Springboks scrum in the media after the test. The main theme was that the Springboks were practicing illegal tactics in the scrum and that New Zealand need to select props that can stand-up to if not sort the South African front-row cheats and bullies. The picture was called the mystery of the flying legs. The script under the picture explain that the ‘flying legs’ legs belongs to Koch and van der Merwe and then goes on and declare that both are breaking the law.

The Kiwi unhappiness about team selections culminated in the selectors being ‘summoned’ to a public meeting to ‘explain’ their selections (I’ll write more about this meeting when I do the piece on the third test). The general feeling among the New Zealand public was in short that there was too much experimentation with team selections and that the wrong players got selected for the first two test matches. Fingers were pointed at the props and the flyhalf Mick Bremner in particular.

Tiny White was asked, for example, after this match why the All Black scrum was pushed around; why weren’t the locks pushing? ‘The reason,’ he replied, ‘was because Irwin in the first test and McAtamney in the second had their ribs busted when they buckled. Hell, if we applied pressure from behind they could have broken their backs –particularly McAtamney. Our selectors made the mistake of putting in youngsters against world class props.’

Spiro Zavos narrates a tale of how new flyhalf Mick Bremner got carved-up by a high school kid a week before the test during an All Black training session. ‘He (the school kid) must have done it four or five times, and there was a lot of comment among us after the practice game,’ writes Zavos, ‘that Mulholland (the kid) had made it look so easy.’

Zavos then continues and write that the Springboks in much the same way made Bremner look ordinary in the second test and divulges that the Marlborough Express commented on the ‘pitifully weak performance of the inside backs’ during the second test which according to him was in essence just a repeat of what happened at the school training match.

Another example of the experimentation according to some sources was the selection of lock forward Nev MacEwan on No8 for the second test. MacEwan played an outstanding game for Wellington against the Springboks in the lock position in the fifth tour match but as a back-row did little more than feeling his way in the second test.

The game itself

As South Africans we like to believe that it was the ferocity of the South African forwards play that took the All Blacks out of the match. The New Zealanders like to relate the loss to unintelligent play in the wind and selection errors. Be it as it may, the Springbok scrum was devastating and it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the South African front-row of Bekker, van der Merwe and Koch by their superior weight and skill gave the winners a distinct advantage. An incident early in the match where the South African props literarily walked through the NZ scrum is one of the legendary tales of this series (Click here to see footage).

McLean has the following on the first scrum and the Springbok forwards:

Soon, the two packs of forwards were embroiled in the first scrum; and by a studied process of over-simplification it was possible to arrive to conclusion, much later that on, that the match had begun and been decided in it. The packs smashed at each other and McAtamney rose in the air. They were speared after some wild clawing, reformed and came again. Van der Merwe rose up once again and this time McAtamney took the brunt of the Springbok thrusts and lost a goodly portion of his drive from that moment on.

From this auspicious beginning, the Springboks went on to demonstrate an overall and convincing superiority which would have been entirely admirable but for the methods which transgressed the fair.

The Springbok forwards dominated the scrums and line-outs but more importantly won the skirmishes at the breakdowns. Pickard and Retief were splendid in the hurly burly and the mauls and rucks which followed the line-outs, writes Maxwell Price in Springboks at Bay.

Jaap Bekker had a massive game. He was vital in the Springbok plan to subdue the All Black front row and took terrific punishment in the process. Bekker got concussed midway through the game but did not leave the field until the last minute when it was clear that the Springboks have won.

This picture shows Jaap Bekker charging into an opponent. Jaap was possessed by an unconquerable anxiety to get into every move, writes Terry McLean. The work rate that Bekker and the other two tight forwards Chris Koch and Bertus van der Merwe demonstrated in the tight loose swung the game in South Africa’s favour. It is no secret that Danie Craven at half time -with the All Blacks leading only by 3-0 after having played with a gale force wind- regarded the game as over. Craven remarked at that stage: “The forwards have been wonderful. We will win the game”.

McLean writes as follows about Bekker and the South African forwards:

Bekker’s concussion may have partly explained his extraordinary skill during the second half, during which he was obviously possessed by an unconquerable anxiety to get into every movement; but I cannot help feeling that the rapidity, the velocity if you like, of his movements was as much the instinctive expression of the team’s will-to-win as it was of his own injury. For what Bekker did, others did, too. Retief was astonishingly good in backing up movements, Lochner stalked Bremner like a panther, Pickard, who should certainly have been awarded a try from a pushover scrum in the second half, was energetic and clever, Koch with Retief seemed to have an Indian sign on upon Vincent and those three bonny boys, Claassen, du Rand and van der Merwe were magnificently durable. At all relevant times, the pack clung together like glue and, unfortunately for New Zealand, the All Blacks could not generate enough heat to cause the mixture to come apart.   

These pictures show a concussed Jaap Bekker after the game. He left the field in a bewildered state to the extent that he even shoved a pressman out of the way who was trying to congratulate him on his performance. He was taken to hospital soon after the game and had no idea who won when he woke in the hospital at 3 o’clock the next morning. He also had no recollection of the last 15 minutes of the match.

The forward dominance (in the set piece and tight loose) was instrumental towards the final result in more than one way. It provided in the first instance the backs with front foot-ball but it also in combination with the dominance in the tight loose ensured a shield of protection for Gentles allowing both Gentles and Ulyate the space and time to control proceedings. Gentles was instrumental in both Springbok tries and if there was a dual between Gentles and the New Zealand loose forwards then, writes one historical scribe, the honours of the day rest with the diminutive Springbok halfback. He was elusive, brilliantly quick to go on his own when the opportunity presented itself, and beautiful to watch in the dispatch of the ball from the scrum. Ulyate was cool and calculated instead of whimsical and opportunist and he was in both his kicking and in his judgement of the moment to pass an extremely effective flyhalf in this test match, according to witness Terry McLean. 

Notice the shield of protection formed by the Springbok forwards for scrumhalf Tommy Gentles in this picture. Due to this protection and the front foot-ball Gentles received he had an outstanding game. 

Vincent the New Zealand half-back by contrast, writes the same scribe was ineffectual, slow and sometimes embarrassingly out of touch. Vincent had no change really considering the slowness of the ball he received and the pressure exerted on him by the South African forwards. That pressure in combination with the slowness and loopy constitution of his pass made Bremner on flyhalf nothing more than a sitting duck for Retief and Lochner.  

In these two pictures Gentles is putting pressure on Vincent while the latter tries to start a movement. Vincent struggled behind a struggling New Zealand pack confronted by a South African team that have been in a desperate struggle to come to terms with the New Zealand playing conditions and style of play so far on tour. In this second test the South Africans got it right and this rejuvenated the tour as a whole.

The wind was a major factor and the general perception at the start of the game was that the Springboks made an enormous mistake by deciding to play against the wind after winning the toss. The decision to face the wind was based on Craven’s believe that the team would have more energy and higher concentration levels in the first half and therefore better able to defend and face the challenges of playing against the wind. This decision contributed hugely to the victory not because of the correctness of Craven’s logic but because of New Zealand’s inability to use the wind to their advantage. In an attempt to exploit the wind they kicked most of their possession away which was probably not entirely the wrong tactics but it was in the execution that it went wrong. The New Zealand halfbacks executed poorly and most of the kicks were ill judged. This poor kicking display in all probability resulted from the pressure exerted on the New Zealand halfbacks. The South African halfbacks in contrast executed outstandingly well and Ulyate's tactical kicking display was instrumental in both Springbok tries.

The Springbok supremacy at the skirmishes or breakdowns was without a doubt a major reason why New Zealand never really got going in this test match. It (the dominance of the collisions) was a direct spin-off from ascendency obtained in the scrums. This enabled Lochner, Retief, Gentles, Ulyate and Kirkpatrick to exert constant pressure on the New Zealand inside backs Vincent, Bremner and Gray. The way that Gray the inside centre in particular was eliminated was an important contributing factor towards the South African victory. The 10/12 combination is huge in NZ rugby; it is the cog around which All Black game tactics revolve. It is no co-incidence that NZ lost the 1970 series when Jansen tackled their midfield to tatters. It is also no co-incidence that the All Blacks lost the 1949 series 4-0 when Hennie Muller and Ryk van Schoor dominated the All Black midfield. Fred Allan and center partner Elvidge perfected an attacking move in 1949 and the All Blacks normally scored of this move but Craven instructed Hennie Muller not to put his head in the scrum when this move was on the charts (normally in the South African 25 yards area). Muller marked them so well and tackled them with such effectiveness and ferocity that they stopped using the move altogether. Most South African victories against the All Blacks over the years resulted in situations where South Africa were able to disrupt New Zealand in the midfield through a combination of providing them with poor ball from set piece and/or exerting unrelenting pressure on the inside backs with either crashing tackles or rush-up defence. History seems to indicate that if you want to beat the All Black you need to put pressure on their halfbacks and dominate the midfield. South Africa annihilated Bremner and Gray in this test and won; they were unable to accomplish this in the third and fourth tests and lost. They were unable to do so (dominate the midfield) in the last two test matches of the 1956 series partially due to the impact that Kevin Skinner had on the South African scrum but mostly due to the influence of Peter Jones in the midfield. Jones was a human tank and totally dominated the midfield in the last two test matches with his presence, size and speed (more about this when I write about the third test). 

This pictures show the South African focus on Bill Gray and the superior numbers at the tackle ball in the second test. Notice five Springboks swamping inside centre Gray. Jaap Bekker is already over Gray and in process of picking the ball up. Only one New Zealander is in sight and rather far from the ball behind the five South Africans.  

This photograph shows Theuns Briers tackling All Black fullback Pat Walsh with Ron Jardon in the background. Briers had a quiet type of game but made some important try saving tackles notably one on Ron Jardon late in the first half which prevented what looked like a certain try (click here to see the incident). 

Neither Jardon nor Dixon (the two All Black wingers) impressed in this test. They didn’t see much ball and got beaten on defence a few times. Ron Jarden shown in two minds in this picture above was beaten on occasion of both tries and missed with a number of penalties. Jardon's poor goal kicking was probably the reason why Don Clarke was brought into the team for the third test with devastating effect for the South Africans.

Due to the nature of the game the wings on both teams didn’t see much ball. The Springbok inside backs Nel, Kirkpatrick, Ulyate and Gentles showed individual and collective skill beyond anything that their New Zealand counterparts could show. They kicked more accurately; passed more accurately and their running was more accurate and powerful. Brown the New Zealand outside centre was probably the only All Black back that came out of this match with his reputation intact.


The All Blacks scored within the first 15 minutes of the first half when Gray fielded a perfectly placed high kick by Walsh. The bounce beat the Springbok outside backs; Gray gather in a flash and flicked it to Brown who crashed over for the try. Jardon missed with the conversation and with a number of penalty attempts later in the half (click here to see the try). The All Blacks wasted countless opportunities to score with ill-judged high kicks.  

It was Pickard who won a line-out ball against the throw in the All Black twenty-five and Gentles (both shown in this picture) who then made a blindside dash that produced South Africa’s first try.

It took South Africa only two minutes in the second half to score and take the lead which they did not relinquish for the rest of the match. Ulyate with a crafty kick to the line forced a line-out inside the All Black twenty-five. Pickard won the New Zealand throw-in and Gentles quick as a fox skirted around the front of the line-out dodging the outstretched All Black arms. Retief was in close support and he took an inside pass from Gentles eluded a bewildered Young and Jardon and crash over in the corner for a magnificent try. Viviers converted from the corner for South Africa to take the lead 5-3. 

This picture shows Daan Retief scoring his try in the second test.

The Springboks kept the pressure on hereafter and the All Blacks rarely got out of their own territory. The pressure produced penalties which Viviers missed namely kicks of 40, 35 and finally 55 meters. In the last 10 minutes the Springboks forced a scrum close to the All Black goal line and Nel on receiving the ball broke the defence and gave to Kirkpatrick who scored but the try was disallowed because the referee was unsighted. Another scrum was ordered and Pickard forced the ball down after the All Blacks were pushed back over their line but once again the referee disallowed the try.

The Springboks forced another scrum close to the right hand touchline and Gentles made a sniping blindside dash after a forceful scrum and quick heel by the forwards with Pickard packing on lock and du Rand at No8. Retief was once again in close attendance but well-marked and cramped in. It was du Rand who seized up the situation and with a brilliant piece of quick thinking plucked the ball out of Gentles hands and heaved himself over the line for the final points of the match. 

This picture shows Salty du Rand playing in his 19th test match (thereby breaking Boy Louw’s record of 18 test matches) scoring his try in the second test.

In conclusion

It was a much needed victory for the embattled Springbok side and they were beyond themselves (as the picture below show) with joy. The victory blew some live into a tour that was slowly starting to deteriorate into a nasty affair. 

Springboks celebrating after the second test.

The victory saw the All Blacks making several changes to their line-up notably the inclusion of players like Kevin Skinner, Don Clarke and Peter Jones who would turn the tide in dramatic fashion into the All Blacks favour in the next two test matches.

This match was the end of Pat Vincent’s brief international career. The 30 year old All Black captain was past his best and was heavily criticized for both his tactical approach and own play. It was the last international too for both prop Frank McAtamney and fyhalf Mick Bremner although both toured again with All Black teams. McAtamney was an All Black tourist to Australia in 1957 and Bremner toured as vice-captain with the 1960 All Blacks to South Africa.

Click here to view a post match interview with Danie Craven and Pat Vincent.

Some more footage of the 2nd and 3rd test matches as well as interviews with players.

Don't you just loves Craven's style when he answers the qeustion on whether he was happy with the refereeing with: 'Yes, why do you ask me that question?'