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The Cavalier tour in hindsight

Allan Perrott wrote an interesting article called ‘The rebel rugby tour: Boots and all’ about the 1986 Cavaliers tour to South Africa.

It is quite timely. Not only for the fact that it happened 25 years ago but because the All Black won their one and only RWC the year after the Cavaliers excursion to the rotting carcass of Apartheid as Chris Laidlaw like to call South Africa.

The Cavalier tour of course polarised New Zealand almost like the 1981 tour. So considering the impact of the 1981 tour had on New Zealand –and we in SA don’t always appreciate the effect it had- it is astonishing that some of the incumbent 1986 All Blacks decided to actually rebel tour to South Africa.

They must have known it was potentially a rugby career death sentence and they must have known that a RWC was in planning for the next year. So what were they thinking and how do they feel today about what they did?

This article provides some great insight on their thinking/reasons and how some of the players feel about it today.  

Parrot writes:

Putting on the black had always given Warwick Taylor a thrill. But not this time.

It was 1986 and the 15-test All Black midfielder was looking forward to the end of the Cavaliers rebel tour of South Africa.

What began as a defiant statement about amateur sporting values, the pursuit of this country's rugby holy grail and a desire to see the apartheid system up close, was now proving to be a hopeless cause.

Taylor's team was 2-1 down in the four-test series and convinced Welsh referee Ken Rowlands was going to make damn sure it ended 3-1 to the home side.

"As an All Black," says Taylor, "going to South Africa and winning would have been perfect. It was what we'd all dreamed about since we were kids. But I gradually realised it had been a false hope and it became harder and harder to pick myself up for each game. We had always been used to feeling the support of the whole country behind us.

"I remember, just before the last test, I had an All Black tracksuit with me and I put it on because [I thought] that'd get me going. But that's when I realised we weren't All Blacks, we were there as individuals and we weren't representing New Zealand, we were representing ourselves.

And the country wasn't behind us. We were just young guys who wanted our chance to beat South Africa on their own turf. That was a bit naive because it was never going to happen."

This is quite an admission from someone who had gone to South Africa on the Cavaliers tour knowing it put his career in jeopardy. Also if any act can highlight how important the rivalry between Springboks and All Blacks was for New Zealand rugby players this tour would be it.

The players were fearful for their wives and kids staying behind but obsessed with the idea of playing against the Springboks in South Africa. This obsession was heightened by a court cancellation of a planned official tour in 1986. Warrick Taylor who even took his wife along in fear of leaving her behind explains how serious they were of beating the Boks at home: "We were totally blinded by what we were there to achieve," says Taylor. "So much so that I had one of the worst arguments ever with my wife. She wanted to know why I didn't go to see her more and I kept saying how I wasn't there for a holiday. That was a big argument."

Asked whether he’ll do it again he said:

I got to see the place and what was happening there for myself and I made up my own mind about it. So, yes, I'd still go."

The official tour was called off following an injunction lodged by two Auckland lawyers, Patrick Finnigan and Phillip Recordon, who argued it would contravene the rugby union's constitutional promise to promote, foster and develop the game. Warwick Taylor and the rest of his team weren't so much disappointed as furious.

Hika "the Hooker" Reid, was plain angry. He still fumes over 1981 and the impact of the anti-tour campaign: "Remember the Waikato game? Two hundred people stopped 30,000 people from enjoying themselves. How ridiculous is that? It was pathetic."

Reid had been so determined to tour he'd played the trial match with a broken jaw. "I wouldn't let the doctors wire me up, that's how much I wanted it. I was like everyone else, I'd been watching those games since I was a kid and that was my shot.”

Rugby legend Sir Colin Meads was a late inclusion as coach, despite being an All Black selector and doubting their chances of success. It was about bridge-building and sticking one to the protesters -which he considers hypocrites for focusing on one injustice while ignoring others- maintain the great Pinetree to this day. So he was in, even though it could cost him his job.

Results-wise, the squad won seven of their eight midweek games, including a notably violent encounter with Natal.


As for the tests, they should have won the first but lost; should have lost the second but won; and then copped hammerings in the third and fourth. By the last test the players had become so angry with their Welsh referee that one player pointedly shouldered him aside, one of the greatest no-no's in rugby.

Ja boet. This is interesting. When they lose it’s the referee’s even if the referee is Welsh.


Off-field the Cavaliers behave like All Blacks and stick rigidly to their usual routines and rituals. This of course suited the South Africans who constantly referred to the team as All Blacks from the moment they landed.


I was in my first year of compulsory military training at the time (after 5 years and two degrees at Uni) and don’t remember much of it due to the all the annoyances of being busy with army duty. I do remember the emergency situations called by the prime ministers in 1986 which resulted in us not getting weekend pass and having to sit in camp unable to get to a TV to watch some of the matches.


The racial subplot isn't something players like Hika Reid are comfortable discussing. It remains "sensitive." But Reid is bullish about his enjoyment of the tour. He was even elevated to senior hooker after captain Andy Dalton had his jaw broken by one of the cheapest shots –according the Parrot- in rugby history (see clip of this incident here).


"It [South Africa] was an amazing place. I don't remember too much about the games, just that they were all big guys, and hard, really hard. What I remember the most is the country and the game parks. I had these photos from when I was a kid of [All Black winger] Bryan Williams on a jeep in a game park with a gun and a couple of springboks, and now I have those memories myself. I even saw a lion making a kill, one of the most magnificent things I have ever seen. That's what I took from the experience."


Some of the Cavaliers told the article writer: "I fell in love with the country and the people, and really enjoy going back there whenever I can. It's a rugby country full of like-minded locals and we got on really well. They have a similar attitude to rugby, alcohol and women - and in about that order too."


Some also believe the trip made them better players.


They are more ambivalent about some of the people they encountered. The Cavaliers didn't gel very well with the South African teams off the field. This often left the New Zealanders feeling unappreciated, and no one seems to have got on with the Afrikaners. "But then they probably felt we were whingers. I know we felt like everything was going against us by the end, but that may have been the mindset we got caught in ... it seemed like we were very much on our own and that was after we'd sacrificed so much to get there. Some guys had risked or left their jobs and we weren't even sure we'd be allowed to play again, so to not get a fair shake was very frustrating" says one of the Cavaliers.


This inability to gel with the Afrikaners is of course nothing new as you can read about this as far back as 1921. What I do find intriguing is how much New Zealanders like to go and watch rugby in South Africa. I attended quite a few test matches between South Africa and New Zealand during the years 1996 to 2003 and unvaryingly would encounter visiting/touring All Black supporters mixing with the Afrikaners at the barbeque fires. It seemed to me that mixing with the Afrikaners around the barbeque fires where for many the highlight of their expeditions to Africa.  


Over the years there has always been talk that the Cavaliers returned to New Zealand as rich men. There were rumours of returning players buying farms or expensive tractors, while pre-tour talk claimed they were in line for up to $100,000 each.


The players are still reluctant to talk about the monetary pay-off. Taylor said they were given a daily allowance as per normal on All Black tours. Meads says he joined the tour after the pay negotiations were completed and wasn't interested enough to ask. While some huge numbers have been bandied about, he writes them off as ridiculous.


Whatever they returned with in their wallets, writes Perrott, they arrived to a chilly reception and scurrying through airports to avoid the cameras was hardly a high point in the star players' careers.

Meads, true to form, got off the plane and went straight back to work as a selector. Not everyone was happy about it but he, no doubt, couldn't have cared less.


As for the players, they were banned for only two matches, although for some of the older tourists that was two tests too many and their careers ended.


For Hika Reid, his ban opened the door for Sean Fitzpatrick to claim the All Black hooker's berth and while he did get two further tests, his international career was played out with the New Zealand Maori. "Yeah, the rugby didn't go so well but I've got great memories of the tour, the country and the camaraderie, you know? In the end, you take all the positives, all the good things and you leave the rest." 


Taylor was re-selected for a test against Australia when his ban ended.  One of the players will be returning to South Africa for the ninth time this year. Some went on to receive winners' medals at the 1987 World Cup.


Perrott end his article with the following question: Regardless of the protests, the plotting and the in-fighting and whether the tour was right or wrong, without the Cavaliers' bloody-minded determination to take on South Africa and the player cull that followed, would the 1987 victory have happened?


From my side thanks to those visiting Cavaliers of 1986 because it gave us and the world some memorable video material of the greatness of some the South African legends like Danie Gerber, the du Plessis brothers and so forth and it kept the rivalry alive. 

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