The McLook rugby collection
8 August 1956 – Spriggenspark; Wanganui
South Africa 36 / Wanganui-King Country 16
A KnightTheuns aBriers
Karel van Vollenhoven
Chris de Wilzem
Chris de Nysschen
Piet du Toit
The picture above shows the 1956 King Country team. The team that played against the Springboks was a combination team consisting of players from this team (in the photo) and the Wanganui team. The King Country team had a reasonable season in 1956 (played 6; won 4) while the Wanganui team had a poor one (played 14; won 4). The combined team consisting of 9 Wanganui players and 11 King Country players played only three matches; two warm-up matches against Manawatu (winning 14-12) and Taranaki (losing 16-36) and the match against the Springboks.
Terry Mclean wrote an entertaining piece about this game in his book ‘Battle for the rugby crown’. His pivotal story line is the fact that the Springboks for the first time on tour had some fun and approached the match in a more than usual relaxed manner. Craven actually took two days ‘holiday’ going with his wife to Mount Edmont –he only re-joined the players only the day before the Wanganui match– which might explain the relaxed and abundant behaviour of the players. Almost like kids who have at last escaped the scrutiny of their parents.
Whether it was the absence of Craven in the touring party or the tension release effect of winning the second test but the players were clearly relaxed, spontaneous almost to the point of being boisterous on arrival in Wanganui. McLean writes: Wanganui’s welcome was a procession of vintage cars and ancient fire-engines and brilliant sunlight; and to players who had just won a test match everything was so novel and enjoyable that Pickard was moved to the use of a water-pistol to squirt the crowd, and players disgorged at high speed from their quaint vehicles in order to photograph other players also disgorging at high speed in order to photograph them. If you get what I mean.
This picture shows the Springboks enjoying a ride on a 1917 Studebaker on arrival in Wanganui.
McLean continues his narrative observing that for the first time in three months on tour the Springboks actually had fun -so common with the touring Lions of 1950- enjoying each other’s company while playing a game of tag. That effervescent spirit of the touring party as a whole enlivened the match two days later and whether you were for or against the Springboks to begin with, write this famous knowledgeable rugby scribe, you could not –if you were a rugby man- long resist the attraction and fascination of the game they developed and which by the end breathed spirit and speed and sureness, the three entrancing S’s of rugby.
Dawie Ackermann and Tom van Vollenhoven in a boisterous mood. These two were the main try scorers against Wanganui-combined with Ackermann scoring 2 tries and van Vollenhoven three.
As a side note it always amazes me how liberally the New Zealand media can praise and OOH and AAH about teams playing ‘relaxed and open’ rugby against them especially if that means the opposition throws caution to the wind and loose (take the Cheetahs as an example). If a New Zealand team does something similar and approached a match in a relaxed and adventurous way and loose the match as a consequence then you notice an abundant use of words like lack of application, commitment and structure in the newspapers the following day.
But back to the Wanganui match.
McLean may be correct regarding the relaxation factor I do however think there was another subtle factor at play based on the fact that I could find no other photograph of the Wanganui match apart from the one above. I get the impression that the New Zealand media was so consumed with dissecting the second test that for the first time during the tour a local side went into a match without the customary pre-match media hype and corresponding advice/instructions on how they should play the Springboks. This in all probability contributed to the local side actually going into the match feeling less pressure culminating in them playing their normal game allowing as a consequence the South African game structured around speedy backs and supporting loose forwards to flourish.
Yes, the Wanganui backs probably lacked the pace to match the South African speedsters but so did most of the teams in NZ during the winter of in 1956. The Wanganui side did not lack spirit and their forward pack –including 21-year old Collin Meads- played with heart and pluckiness and where not by any stretch of the imagination disgraced by the Springbok forwards. Claassen was clouded by Meads and Fitchett and the 75 line-outs awarded was altogether a messy hodgepodge of wrestling bodies with only 15 occasioning in clean takes during the entire match. The difference for the Springboks in this match was that the characteristic spoiling tactics (the box kick, the kick through and rush-up pressure) instigated by Waikato in the first match were not so painstakingly employed by the Wanganui side as was the case in other matches thus far on tour. The Springboks subsequently had space and opportunity to play their natural game.
Another factor was the selection of Roy Dryburg on flyhalf who was an outstanding and much underutilized player on this tour and for once that obsession with the tactical kick was not so overworked in the Springbok game. Dryburg’s positional play and distribution skills saw the Springbok outside backs receiving the ball in space and the backline used nearly every type of move available to rugby backs during the game. The backline on occasion stood almost directly behind each other –rather than obliquely- at scrums allowing them to go either right or left depending on which side scrumhalf Strydom elected to pass the ball.
They also used the orthodox method of sending the ball down the line to the wings with the wings then either speeding around the defence or bringing the ball back inwards depending on the defence.
The cross or wiper kick was used with discretion and Dryburg impressed as being as accurate in executing that manoeuvre as Ulyate. Fast breaking loose forwards receiving passes infield from the inside and outside backs so typical of the Springbok pattern under Craven’s coaching was another feature of the backline play during this match.
It was Roy Dryburg’s return match after a hamstring injury and his inclusion in the flyhalf position -with the other flyhalf’s Brain Pfaff and ‘Peewee’ Howe also on the injury list- for this match created much interest. Dryburg was selected for the tour as a wing and fullback which is also the positions he played all his test matches. The flyhalf position was, nevertheless, not totally foreign to him as he played some matches for his club Hamilton, Cape Town in the No10 jumper.
Dryburg was of course not the only reason why the backline shined in this match. The other reasons being the return to form of Wilf Rosenberg and Ian Kirkpatrick as well as the return of Dawie Ackermann after being injured in the first test. All three had outstanding games and it was their speed that produced much of the excitement and flair in the Springbok backline play. Maxwell Price writes:
. . the highlight of the Wanganui match was undoubtedly the brilliant return to form of Wilf Rosenberg. He had part in two tries and narrowly missed sending Van Vollenhoven over for another. Twice he broke in his familiar style, gliding away from the opposition, his heavy mop of black hair sunk into his shoulders.
This acceleration break of Rosenberg is a delight to watch and thrilled the rugby folk who came to watch the Springboks at Spriggens Park that day. Kirkpatrick, the other Springbok centre, also had an excellent game and broke three times in bewildering style. The Springboks showed that good centre play is still the brightest feature of the game and the crowd was quick to applaud them.
Dryburg used his feet well and for a first performance at fly-half on tour his effort was more than useful. It demonstrated this talented player’s versatility. Dawie Ackermann, the speed merchant, positioned himself well on attack and scored two fine tries.
Wilf Rosenberg and Ian Kirkpatrick seen in the pictures above impressed in this match with their speed and form and was instrumental with regard to the 5 tries scored by the Springboks against Wanganui.
Tries and other scoring
Colin Meads scored the first try when he intercepted a Springbok pass during a forward rush from a line-out close to the Springbok goal line. The line-out was forced within the first 5 minutes of the game by a kick to touch by Wallace playing in the flyhalf position for the Combined team. Coffin the wing converted the try and the Combined team took the lead 5-0.
Viviers took the score to 5-3 two minutes later when he succeeded with a 40-yard penalty awarded for offside play.
Dryburg scored in the 11th minute from a 10-yard scrum with a clever blindside break and change of pace. Viviers missed with the kick; score 5-6.
Basie Viviers playing one of his better matches scored his only try on tour when he chased down an up-and-under kick that he launched after he fielded a failed clearance kick by the Combined team’s fullback Mander. Dryburg missed the goal kick; score South Africa 9, Combined 5.
A brilliant sniping break by scrumhalf Coenraad Strydom produced a try for James Starke. The goal kick by Viviers hit the goal post. Score 12-5.
Coffin succeeded with a penalty from 25-yards out bringing the Combined team to within 4 points of the Springboks. Score 12-8.
One minute before halftime Dryburg kicked an almost perfect wiper kick for his wing after receiving the ball from a line-out. The ball bounced and set-up beautifully for Van Vollenhoven who had no problem gathering to score in the corner. Viviers succeeded with the difficult conversion kick. Score 17-8.
Two minutes after halftime Dawie Ackerman scored the first of his two tries courtesy of clever work by Strydom and Dryburg on the blindside of the scrum and a gliding run by Rosenberg after receiving from Dryburg. Vivieres converted; score 22-8.
Wanganui-combined scored their second try 8 minutes later when Kirkpatrick was pushed away from a ball. Coffin picked-up and set-off with Loe (No 6 or 7) and Knight (no14) in support. Knight scored after some passing exchanges. Coffin converted. Score 22-13.
Van Vollenhoven then scored a try hotly questioned by the crowd after following a kick ahead by Dryburg and bumping his direct opponent Knight off the ball. Viviers converted – South Africa 27, Combined 13.
Viviers and Coffin then exchanged penalties to take the score to 30-16 before Kirkpatrick twice made brilliant breaks, one for a classic try by Van Vollenhoven (his 3rd for the match) and the other for a try by Ackermann who showed up on his inside to take the final pass. Viviers missed with both conversions. Final score 36-16.
It was quite a day for the Springboks and it was a happy touring party who journeyed north-west in the rail car for their next match against Taranaki in New Plymouth.