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July 28, 1956 – Rugby Park; Invercargill

South Africa 23 / Southland 12 

Southland hospitality was at play when the Springboks arrived in a cold Invercargill. Lavish entertainment including flights to the beauty spots in the South Island was laid out by the Southland Rugby Union.

The rugby also turned out to be entertaining with the Springboks scoring 6 tries and the Southland forwards putting in a spirited performance against the heavier Springbok pack. Place kicking almost cost the Springboks the match while defensive lapses -due to injury to some senior players who couldn’t play- in the Southland backline saw the Springboks establishing an 11 point lead within the first 12 minutes of the match. 

As this cartoon indicates the Springboks had some real problems with their place kicking. They were able to convert only one of six tries and that kept Southland within reach especially in the second half when they came back strongly scoring their second try and forcing a few penalties.

All in all it was an entertaining match that had the crowd involved and roaring in support for the home team. Two late tries secured the match for South Africa and gave the scoreboard a more respectable look from a South African perspective.

Teams and individual performances

Southland had a formidable team in 1956 and an even more formidable record against touring international teams, having beaten all of them except South Africa. Fullback Jim Millar had played for the South Island as had halfback Jack McKenzie, who had also been an All Black reserve. Arthur Woods, the hooker, toured with the All Blacks in 1953/54 and Kevin Laidlaw (No12) was destined to tour with the All Black to South Africa in 1960 playing in three of the four test matches. Murray Miller the lock forward who captained the side was an experienced campaigner and played in the 1956 All Black trials.

Injury to incumbent test scrumhalf Robin Archer and his ex All Black scrumhalf back-up Len Wilson left the Southlanders somewhat vulnerable behind the scrum. Two future All Blacks Ack Soper (No8) and Loyd Ashby (fullback) was also injured as well as first choice lock RJ Bowen. McLean writes that it was the defensive weakness of Earwaker (No13) and Jim Millar at fullback that was more than anything else responsible for the loss.

The Springboks persisted with the flyhalf/scrumhalf combination of Montini and Gentles that played so well in the previous game and it paid of yet again with the boks scoring 5 outstanding backline tries. It was Gentles and Howe in particular who was instrumental in the Springboks try scoring. Gentles with his lively and shrewd intelligence and swift decision making helped the Springboks to recapture the initiative late in the second half. With long outward passes Gentles managed to put the Southland loose forwards out of the game at a time when they were dominating play on the field. These passes also brought his centres once more into the attack.

This picture shows Tommy Gentles been thrown out of the way by Ruatahi with two Southlander pouncing on the ball. Gentles with his decision making and long passes were instrumental in the Springboks victory.

Early in the match it was Howe who took advantage of the defensive weakness of the midfield defensive weakness in the Southland team. Howe sprinted through the Southland defence almost at will in the early stages of the match -until he had to leave the field with injury- and it was he who made the opening for the first of three tries scored by the boks in the first 12 minutes.

The teams were: 

South Africa



Johnie Buchler


JT Millar

Tom van Vollenhoven


R Todd

Jeremy Nel


D Earwaker

Peewee’ Howe


KF Laidlaw

Ian Kirkpatrick


RW Gilson

Pat Montini


C Rautahi

Tommy Gentles


JT McKenzie

Jan Pickard


E Jamieson

‘Butch’ Lochner


T Ryan

Daan Retief


IW Todd

Salty du Rand


G Winders

Johan Claassen


IM Miller (C)

Piet du Toit


CA Lamb

Bertus van der Merwe


CA Woods

Harry Newton-Walker


H O’Neil

Lochner moved to the wing when Howe left the field and Nel and Kirkpatrick moved in one position. 

Murray Miller and Salty du Rand leading their teams onto the field in Invercargill.

McLean has the following on individual performances in this match:

It was strange, and not unexhilarating, to see the good little men of the Southland pack overcoming the good big men of the South African pack.

Even Claassen was tamed and Pickard, after some worthy efforts in the first half, was bypassed frequently in the second half. He had such vague ideas of No.8 play that when he had worried McKenzie into a fumble, he applied the boot to the ball with such force that Millar had all the time in the world to force it down, 40 yards distant.

It was Du Rand with his rocklike determination, van der Merwe with his sturdiness and Retief with his clever skill who caught the eye in the Springbok scrum.

As for the backs, every one of them had moments of brilliance and van Vollenhoven, though very well looked after by R Todd, skipped and dodged and bumped off tacklers most spectacularly.

He also eulogized at length the play of the Southland loose forwards Jamieson, Ryan and I Todd to the extent that one wonder whether he and the other witnesses describing the match were watching the same game. All references agree that the Southland pack although outmatched man for man distinguished themselves with their fighting spirit and dogged determination.

Regarding the Southland backs the scribes reveal that although somewhat overshadowed they were by no means disgraced. McKensie the halfback, Rautahi the flyhalf and Laidlaw the inside center showed some flair on attack. 

McKenzie (not Laidlaw like the Afrikaans commentary indicate) the home teams scrumhalf was under constant pressure from the South African loose forwards (in this case Retief) but managed well under circumstances.

Main characteristics of the match

South Africa tore into the Southlanders right from the start and the game was only three minutes old when Lochner scored the first try after a splendid break by Howe. The Springboks inside backs, Nel and Howe in particular, flourished on the flying start given by Gentles and Montini and cut the Southland middle defences to shreds in move after move. Overlaps and double overlaps bobbed up by the dozen, but only about one in three materialized into points.

The boks were ahead by 11-0 –after two more backline tries- by 12 minuets in the first half- and it looked like a cricket score was on the table. Southland was a bit shell shocked at this stage and had no answers for the South African backline speedsters. South Africa kept on attacking and Montini added a drop goal after 25 minutes.

Just before halftime the home team forwards rallied and Laidlaw scored a well worked try for Southland. The halftime score was 14-3

Southland did all the attacking in the opening stages of the second half, but it was South Africa who scored again after brilliant counter attacking by Kirkpatrick, van Vollenhoven and Retief.

Southland responded with a try by winger Todd after some snappy passing.

The home team then changed tactics employing up-and-unders, followed by forward charges and drives through the South African midfield defence while keeping the ball at toe once it went to ground. These foot rushes was also employed on the blindside –to keep the ball away from the South African danger men- after stab through kicks from scrums and line-out rucks. This rattled the Springboks and for the next 20 minutes of the match Southland was on top forcing two penalties to close the gap to five points; score 17-12.

The crowd was roaring for Southland at this stage believing it had a fighting chance to win the match. Gentles however took control sending the ball away from the Southland loose forwards with long passes and South Africa scored two more tries to put the final result beyond doubt.

The Tries

Lochner scored the first try when Howe cut through the Southland midfield before sending Kirkpatrick away down the right touchline. He drew McKenzie coming on cross cover and sent the ball to Lochner running up in support to score. Van Vollenhoven missed with the conversion.

A minute later Gilson (No11) failed to toe a loose ball a half-yard to the touchline and van der Merwe gathering briskly set up a movement of 30 yards in which du Rand, Walker, du Toit and finally Gentles handled before Gentles twisted his way through the defence to score. It was a wonderful sight writes Maxwell Price to see those big forwards in hand-to-hand passing and the crowd applauded. Nel’s conversion attempt was unsuccessful.

Seven minutes later Nel made a superb break past Earwaker from his own 25 before sending Van Vollenhoven away down the left touchline. Van Vollenhoven ran the length of the field and bumped off three defenders before scoring between the posts. Nel succeeded with the conversion. 

 These pictures shows the Springboks first try.

Montini then succeeded with a drop goal before Southland scored their first try. This try came about when Buchler was caught in possession. McKenzie secured form the ruck and send the ball down the backline. Millar slipped into the line to create an opening for Laidlaw who crashed through for the try.

In the second half the Springboks were playing with 14 men and the Southland forwards were lifting their game when Kirkpatrick, van Vollenhoven and Retief combined with brilliant counter-attacking play to score somewhat against the run of play at that stage. Kirkpatrick send the ball with a long pass to van Vollenhoven on the wing who set off on a run and when tackled around the ankles only yards from the goal line he in passing to Retief who gathered and scored. Nel missed with the kick.

Southland second try then resulted from a scrum near the left-hand touchline. Gilson joined the line from the shortside with flyhalf Ruataki running a decoy run to the blindside. The ball went to winger R Todd after Earwaker have evaded Lochner, and the wing went round Buchler to score. 

R Todd didn’t get away on this occation (in this picture) with Retief jumping on his back. Todd did a good job keeping an eye on Van Vollenhoven and scored Southlands second try. Judging by his built this might have been the other Todd who played on the flank.

Southland now went into a stage of constant attacked and forced two penalties to narrow the lead down to only five points.

It was Kirkpatrick who finally put the Springboks in the clear with a fine individual run knifing through the Southland defence for an outstanding try. The last try went to van Bertus van der Merwe for his first official try of the tour after four previous disallowed tries so far on tour. It was van Vollenhoven who received the ball from Gentles after a clean heel in the scrum and ran away down the touchline. When his opponent Todd got hold off him Retief cleared the ball and Gentles collected and gave to van der Merwe who crashed over. Van Vollenhoven missed with the conversion. 

Bertus van der Merwe grinning like a school kid scored the Springboks last try in the match. It was his first try of the tour after having had four previous attempts disallowed.  

The Springboks satisfaction with a fine performance was spoiled when the Melbourne Herald published an article in which Craven was heavily criticized for his outspoken comments regarding the New Zealand referees. “Craven can’t take it”, stated the article and went on and said that the Springboks were unpopular socially and that Craven treated them “like kindergarten kids”. 

Basie van Wyk with the guitar with Basie Viviers, Retief and Bertus van der Merwe singing.