The McLook rugby collection
August 11, 1956 – Rugby Park New Plymouth
Taranaki 3 / South Africa 3
The Springbok team arrived in New Plymouth in high spirits after winning the second test and constructing an impressive win against Wanganui - scoring 7 splendid tries. There was a feeling in the camp that the tour was back on track and that the team was starting to hit form. The struggling performance against a spirited Taranaki team therefore came as a bit of a shock; a reality check.
Within context of the tour it was a match as important and influential as the Waikato game. The spirit, commitment and overall performance of the Taranaki team showed the way for the All Blacks according to Terry McLean and this had a highly significant influence on the outcome of not only the third test but also the series:
This match was, in fact, one of the great milestones of the tour and had a tremendously significant impact upon the third test at Christchurch a week later. New Zealand had lost so much face in the second test at Wellington that it was difficult to feel any degree of confidence over the matches of the rest of the tour. The prospect of a succession of defeats, of a calamitously anti-climactic finish to the tour, seemed unlikely to be disturbed by Taranaki which, being at the moment not truly of the first class, looked to be scarcely a hurdle, let alone an obstacle.
The vitality of the pack was extraordinary. I do not think I have ever seen so many forwards of a pack so soon get to a checked ball, or follow it up with such consistency. By any standards, this was great forward play. The Springboks were confounded and split apart by the quantity and quality of the effort of each and every Taranaki man; and the lesson for New Zealand, that the touring team could be jostled and hustled and put out of countenance was as plain as pikestaff.
The All Black forwards a week later were to accomplish wonderful things and to play with a fury which a New Zealand pack, playing at home, had not developed since 1950; but it was fascinating to speculate on what might have happened had Taranaki played lifelessly, been defeated by 30 points (as everyone seemed to expect) and shown none of the compelling power of forward play which made this match so memorable.
What made the effort of the Taranaki team remarkable and noteworthy as illustrated by the cartoonist below and as mentioned by McLean above is that nobody expected it. Nobody gave them a chance because firstly there were no recognized stars in the 1956 New Plymouth outfit with only two All Blacks namely Peter Burke (No8) and Ross Brown (No13) in the team. Secondly, and more importantly they were not one of the top six provincial sides in New Zealand and it was only really in retrospect that fans and rugby scribes realized that they were not as weak as most thought and started to take cognisance of at least three future All Blacks namely John McCullough (No12), Roger Urbahn (No9) and Roger Boon (No2) who had outstanding games against tourist on Rugby Park New Plymouth on August 11, 1956. They also had Ian McDonald (No1) who was rated as one of the toughest props in the country and an All Black trialist.
While everyone in New Zealand was up in arms about the defeat in the second test the Springboks quietly rolled over Wanganui 36-16 before getting pulled to a halt by little Taranaki who had Ferdinand the bull as mascot. Taranaki’s worthy three-all draw came as a surprise to most Rugby followers in Kiwiland and most certainly for local cartoonist Neville Lodge (Lodge laughs at the Springbok tour). Ferdinand had his chest boasting and Lodge published a cartoonist national apology for underestimating them and immortalised in the process the splendid performance of the Taranaki crop of ’56 into national consciousness.
Ross BrownL Laockett
Tom van Vollenhoven
Chris de Wilzem
Salty du Rand
Piet du Toit
Bertus van der Merwe
Taranaki had a relatively good season in 1956 (played 13; won 8; draw 2; lost 3). By the time they played against the Springboks they had five games under the belt of which they have lost only one namely against Wellington (3-13).
Craven was the first to admit that the Springboks were lucky not to have lost the match saying afterwards: “We were beaten fore and aft. Had we won we would not have deserved it.”
It was in fact only due to a fortunate coincidence of a diminished in-goal area that South Africa did not lose the match. To accommodate a cycle track the in-gaol area was shortened from the usual 22 meters to only 8 meters and in the 25th minute Murfitt (No14) won the race to the ball dribbled into the in-goal area by Ross Brown (No13) and dived on it. The try was awarded but then cancelled when the referee noticed that Murfitt in grounding the ball had slithered across the dead-ball line.
The Taranaki pack in essence not only won the race to the breakdowns but also dominated the collisions in no uncertain way. Burke was a constant competitive nuisance in the line-outs and although van der Merwe won the tight-head count in the scrums it was poor ball as the Springbok pack was pushed around with a lack of respect for dignity and reputation that quite unsettled them.
However it was in two other departments that South Africa also came up short which prevented them from establishing any sort of rhythm. Ackermann’s attempted rushes at Cameron (No10) was blocked with cunning audacity by O’Neil (No6) and the Taranaki backline although lacking the pace of the South African backs tackled with ferocity and played with a cunningness that saw them take the honours as being better on the day.
Ross Brown a future All Back was simply dazzling at centre, first in his crash-tackles of Jeremy Nel and second in two extraordinary deft dribbling runs of over 20 meters. These rousing foot rushes by Brown and on occasion also by some of the other Taranaki players had the Springbok backs running around in panic like headless chucks. Taranaki’s special hero was Bayly (No15) not only because he scored the team’s points but for his outstanding exhibition of fullback play. The local teams inside backs Urbahn, Bill Cameron and McCullough had strong games and their contributions on defence and on attack complemented the forwards effort and kept the Springbok backs out of the game.
Howe slashed brilliantly through the defence on one occasion but spoiled a try scoring movement with a forward pass while Kirkpatrick made one thrilling long run in the second half but that was about it from the Springbok backline, writes McLean.
The piece written by Maxwell Prices about this match could be summarized as the four M’s. M standing for:
- Montini (being picked way to soon after his injury culminating in him re-injuring his hamstring muscle to the extent that it was the end of his tour),
- Mixing and matching in the midfield during the match due to the injury to Montini,
- Motivation (lack thereof with the team already thinking about the third test).
Price writes that the backline was slowed down by the muddy conditions but that selections made for this match contributed much to the Springboks struggling performance. The selectors picked the team with a mind on the third test but it was in particular -in his opinion- the experimental selection of the still injured Montini and Howe that hindered the Springbok backline in their attempts to handle the pressure exerted upon them by the Taranaki team.
Jeremy Nel had a shocker mostly due to the constant changes made to the inside backs during the match after Montini got injured. When Montini pulled his hamstring Howe (also in his return match after injury) moved to fly-half and Kirkpatrick came in on centre with de Wilzem going to the wing. Later with a rusty Howe paying very tentatively on fly-half Viviers posted himself on No10 with Kirkpatrick returning to the wing, Howe moved to centre and de Wilzem to fullback. Viviers made the break from the fly-half position that led to Pickard equalising try with only about 11 minutes to go on the clock but that was about his only contribution in the fly-half berth. He continued to kick most of the possession away especially after the Springboks scored the equalising try which says a lot about the teams mind-set at that stage of the game.
Pickard scored the Springboks only points late in the second half when he dived on a ball that were kicked into the in-goal area after Viviers made a break and got tackled.
Jan Pickard was clearly a mn with a serious support group in South Africa - as these pictures and subscripts indicate. His suporters where quick to jump on his performance in the Taranaki match as evidence/proof that he needs to be in the test team.
Bertus van der Merwe was South Africa’s man of the match with 10 tight-heads. Salty du Rand started bleeding profusely from stiches he received after the second test but he Pickard and Koch answered fire with fire and was the reason why South Africa were able to secure a draw. Tommy Gentles impressed the crowd with his service to his fly-half behind a struggling pack and Kirkpatrick was still improving match by match and did enough to win a spot in the test side for the third test.