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July 25, 1956 - Victoria Park, Westport

South Africa 27 /West Coast-Buller 6 

Dominating in the scrums and line-outs has so far proven to be not enough for the 1956 Springbok team. Not even halfway thought the tour yet and they’ve already lost two tour matches namely against Waikato and Canterbury as well as the first test in spite of winning the line-out and scrums contests in each of these matches.

The two main problems seem to have been; firstly, an inability to contest at the rucks/tackle ball; secondly, lack of polish in the backline. The lack of structure at the rucks and collision areas has been the main area targeted by the local team’s right from the Waikato match. The primary approach was simply to change the line-outs and scrums into rucks and then to charge through in numbers and/or to put the ball behind the Springboks with box kicks and then charge at the backs.

This not only negated the Springboks dominance in the scrums and line-outs but it also countered the Springboks style of using fast loose forwards linking with the backs. The Springbok seagulls (loose forwards hanging loose) were seen by the knowledgeable rugby scribes as the reason for the Springboks problems at the rucks. Clive Ulyate’s tendency to overuse the tactical kick also were under increased scrutiny mainly because it took both the wide hanging loose forwards and the pacy Springboks backs out of the match.

Craven was well aware of these problems and has been trying to rectify it right from the first match but with very little success so far on tour. He has tried playing heavier tight forwards and has experimented with Howe on flyhalf with Brain Pfaff –the incumbent test flyhalf- injured.

The Springboks went into this match trying something else in an attempt to solve the problems at the rucks and in the backline. Pickard regarded by most as being the man that could produce more bulk at the rucks was moved into the loose trio and Pat Montini was tested in the flyhalf berth. Maxwell Price the South African media man on tour writes:

There was a refreshing change in the entire atmosphere of the tour at Westport. It coincided with a change in the overall tactics of the Springboks side. The long range game forwards game, with the loose men joining with the backs and looking for linking passes, had enjoyed a tremendous vogue in South African rugby during the post-war years. Its crowning triumph had been the 1951-2 British tour where with the aid of three brilliant loose forwards –Hennie Muller, Basie van Wyk and Stephen Fry- Craven had worked out a technique which had won the team victory after victory. It often made for a highly attractive game, as anyone who saw the dazzling exchanges at Newlands between the British Lions and the combined universities of Stellenbosch and Cape Town will acknowledge. But it was not suited to New Zealand conditions, and apt to break down against the hard rucking of the home forwards.

Thus, for the match against West Coast-Buller, the selectors discarded the third loose forward and put Jan Pickard at number eight in the scrum. Another interesting experiment was the appearance of Pat Montini at fly-half. This move had obviously been made in view of the Second test. In the first test Ulyate had not made sufficient use of his three-quarters, and a player was being sought who would give his backs a flying start.

The first half saw the Springbok backline struggling to round off a number of opportunities due to throwing 50/50 passes. The Springboks went into half time leading only 3-0 after an early try by Pickard. Both teams missed a number of penalty kicks. Basie Viviers played in his first return game after injury after receiving advice from a surgeon that he should play through the pain. Viviers even tried kicking a penalty with his left foot due to the injury to his right leg and when that failed both Johnstone and Pickard took turns with the kicking.  

This picture show Jan ‘bull’ Pickard scoring his try against West Coach-Buller. The Springboks struggled to get across the try line initially and half time this try by Pickard was the only points scored in the match.

Late in the second half the Springbok backs started to click and to put on a most entertaining display of running rugby that had the crowd glued to their seats. McLean writes:

Montini in his first experience of flyhalf was naturally and excusably a little tentative, but it was not easy to be charitable when he lost the ball as he dived to score at the end of a clinking 30-yard break; as for Howe, Nel, Johnstone and Kirkpatrick, their individual brilliance was continuously being dimmed by forward pass or a knock-on or some similar misdemeanour.

In the second half it was largely South Africa with thrilling runs, great speed and individual and collective cleverness, which dominated the scene so pleasantly that scarcely one of the spectators stirred, let alone ducked under the rope, to get away from it. Kirkpatrick, playing quite brilliantly, had one try after a 50-yard run. Johnstone had another from lovely play by Montini, Nel and himself, and then Nel scored when Kirkpatrick whizzed in from of the blindside and the movement begun by Gentles contained Montini, Kirkpatrick, Nel, Johnstone and finally Nel for the score.

The tide was checked by a swarming Combined rush from which Ross scored and about which some of the Springboks, Pickard in particular seemed to be disturbed, if not irritated. Then ten more points came in the last three minutes from a try by De Wilzem which capped a fine run by Johnstone and a second try by Nel after a cross kick by Johnstone and with Gentles assisting. Viviers converted each of these last three tries with an assurance which led one to speculate on New Zealand’s luck in so seldom having to worry about his undoubted technical skill as a goalkicker.

Craven was very pleased with the teams overall performance and it was felt that the experiments with Pickard and Montini was a success. Pickard maybe not as prominent as in some of the earlier games used his poundage and strength to wear the combined forwards down and did seem to make a difference in the tight play. In the first half the Combined team forwards frequently bustled the Springboks into errors but the Springboks increased their forward control as the match progressed. 

This picture show the South Africa loose trio Starke, Pickard ad Chris de Wilzem combining with Gentles to combat typical foot rush tactics of the 1956 New Zealand teams in the West Coach-Buller match.

The inability of the lighter Combined packmen to break through the Springbok protective screen gave Gentles the latitude to exploit his undoubted ability to keep his forwards on the front foot and to create space for the backline. His running from the scrum was timely and his passing, judged by local standards, a revelation.

This forward platform and Gentles passing allowed Montini to impart speed and purpose into the backline play. Montini flicked out passes which made the three quarters really run and three of the tries in which he had some hand were perfection writes Terry McLean. It was the Montini, Howe, Nel combination on which the victory was built but that culminated from better structure and ball control in the tight loose.

Another characteristic of this match was the fact that lorries (trucks) and tractors with wagons as well as tarpaulins were used to create seating for spectators. It rained heavily for two days before the match and the ground was quite wet and muddy but the grass surface held up well for the match.  

Trucks were used as media seating at the Westport game as can be seen in the picture above.  

This picture shows the farmers sitting on tarpaulins and farming vehicles while watching the match between West Coach-Baller and the Springboks. 

This picture shows Paul Johnstone in action in the West Coach-Buller match. Johnstone scored one try in this match and had a hand in a few more and also succeeded with a few penalties. R Burrow (behind Johnstone) his direct opponent in this match had a reputation as a high scoring wing and played well but were unable to score.

The South African team that played in this match were: Viviers; Johnstone; Nel; Howe; Kirkpatrick; Montini; Gentles; Pickard; de Wilzem, Claassen; de Nysschen; Starke; du Toit; Hanekom; Newton-Walker.

Note: The New Zealand sources I’ve referenced actually have Pickard playing on the flank and De Wilzem being the number eight.

The west Coach-Buller team were: McNabb; Burrow; White; McEnaney; Champion; Negri; Dent; Orman; Foster; Hawes; Egerton; Anderson (Captain); Shaw; Duncan; Ross.