The McLook rugby collection
Not much is available on the Australian leg of the 1956 tour. McLean in his book “Battle for the rugby crown” devout a chapter to this part of the tour but writes very little about the actual matches apart from the table below which is a summary or record of matches played in Aussie.
Statistical record of matches played in Australia during the 1956 Springbok tour
Tries for SA
Du Preez (2); Dryburg (2); Nel; Viviers.
Sydney Cricket Ground
Van Vollenhoven (2); Nel; Strydom; Retief.
New South Wales
Du Preez; Hanekom
Sydney Cricket Ground
Dryburg (6); Van Vollenhoven; Retief; Hanekom; Du Rand; De Nysschen
South Africa played 6 games in Australia including two test matches and won all six; the two test matches with identical half time and full times scores.
Dryburg scoring one of his 6 tries against Queensland
A total of 28 tries were scored which might leave the impression –certainly a view expressed by the South African team- that Australian rugby was weak. Truth is that the two test matches were pretty even contests with Australia only losing because they lacked in cohesiveness at critical moments during both tests. McLean writes:
The Springboks beat the Australians as much by reputation as by skill. In both the first and second tests, but especially the first, the Springboks suffered the initiative to be taken from them for long periods and then were able to regain it because the Australians, with all their own speed, lacked the positive quality of consistent attack which comes from a well-knit team.
The Springboks assessment of Australian rugby –according to McLean- was that it was in effect Sydney.
McLean has these enchanting paragraphs on Australian rugby of 1956: The Springboks found Australian Rugby in a peculiar state. If this astonished them, as it undoubtedly did, they had one comfort: Australian Rugby is always in a peculiar state.
The peculiar thing about Australian Rugby, in fact, is that it has a state at all.
The average Aussie in 1956 –and probably still today- was of the opinion that Australia can only be successful in Union rugby if they play a style very similar to League namely a fast tempo game in which the ball flash from hand to hand in spectacular movements.
The great curse of Australian Rugby was not that it was not close enough to League in design and method according to McLean but that it was in fact to close. A second misfortune of great consequence to the game as a whole was that it was ridden by a Sydney, or metropolitan complex.
In essence McLean is eluding to the fact that money –what will sell to Aussie public- dictates how the game are developed and approached in Australia. Since the professional era this tendency or approach has inflicted union rugby worldwide but especially in the Southern hemisphere. The problem with that is that the Southern hemisphere seems to dictate rule adjustments in world rugby and that S15 are all about money and pleasing spectators. Spectacular back line movement and a fast pace game has become the norm and none are more critical about the South African style of 10-man rugby than the Aussies. Union to my mind is being turned at an increasing rate into a league hybrid which is all about flashy fancy pants razzle and dazzle with orgasmic style yelling by television commentators whose main job and objective is to make it sound and look more spectacular than it really is.
Back to the 1956 tour.
If the Australian leg of the tour did reveal anything about the Springbok team then it was that the forward play was too infatuated with running with the ball and that the ’56 Springbok pack lacked the structure and bulk of previous Springbok teams. Another factor that became evident during the Australian leg of the tour and which eventually impacted on final outcome was the dominating -one may even say draconian- role of Danie Craven.
Terry McLean devote a whole chapter called “Mr Rugby” to this extraordinary man whose passion and dedication saw him lose his balance during the tour to the extent that he was actually destructive on the team during the mid second half of the tour.
McLean writes as follows about the authority and power/force of Craven’s personality:
Dr Craven did not have much cause to be deeply shocked while his team was in Australia. Because his was a mercurial temperament, he could turn from the saddening blows of injuries as serious as van Wyk’s (Basie van Wyk broke his leg in Australia) to the primary task of instilling spirit and enthusiasm into the team and, by being young enough to remember all the glories of his own first tour, he had the wit, and the humour, to keep the players amused and quite subtly, the authority to keep them under strict discipline.
We were waiting in a bus to go to a Sydney ground when he entered and spoke briefly in Afrikaans. “That means”, said a forward in English, as he finished, “no women tonight.” “Or ever,” breathed Danie –lightly, but meaningfully. The meaning was less subtle as I sat in the lounge with Viviers and Du Rand. It was two minutes to 22h00. Danie came to our table and smilingly, but with the faintest suggestion of peremptoriness, pointed at his watch. Without a word, they got up and left. They were to play in the match in two day’s time. The order was 10 o’clock bed-time.
A little further down in his chapter McLean also has this on Dr Craven’s command and respect within the team:
Van Wyk babbled as he was coming out of anaesthetic. The secretary of Australian Rugby Union, Mr Bob Roberts, listened interestedly. “He thinks you are a god,” he told Dr Craven later. Van Wyk, of course was an old hand; if Dr Craven could thus retain a man’s loyalty, to 10 o’clock closing and all, it was evident that he had unusual, if not superior, powers.
The regard at which all rugby loving folk/individuals in South Africa held Dr Craven is probably best illustrated by this song (in the clip below) by Leon Schuster. Craven was master and commander of SA rugby and the esteem and recognition that Springbok rugby enjoy today is to my mind mostly thanks to the passion, ability, dedication, and leadership of this man.
It was not always like that and Craven had to earn this respect. Craven retired as rugby player in 1938 after captaining South Africa in three tests against a touring British side and entered the frame of Springbok rugby administration when he was made selector and Springbok coach in 1949 when the All Blacks toured through South Africa.
The methods used to beat the 1949 All Blacks did not go off well with the South African public and Craven’s popularity took a further knock when he wrote a contemptuous review consisting of seven articles of the book written by New Zealand broadcaster Winston McCarthy about the tour. Only a narrow margin of votes saw him appointed as assistant manager and coach of the 1951/2 Springboks touring to the UK. The great success of that tour cemented his place and confirmed his ability as there was general agreement that he was the architect of the Springboks new style of playing. It is however interesting to note that when Hennie Muller retired after the home series win against the 1953 Wallabies Craven’s stats as a successful coach started to even out against the 1955 Lions and then took a serious dip in 1956 against the All Blacks. Most rugby scribes agree that Hennie Muller the player had an immense impact on South African rugby from 1949 to 1953 but few have explored his impact on Craven’s success as coach.
During the Australia leg of the tour Carven was according to McLean the ideal manager. He spoke wittily, he co-operated with everybody, his relations with the Australian press were ideal and officially and unofficially he performed magnificently.
Due to a few flaws or blind spots (products of his obsessive competiveness and desire to win) Craven did not gel particularly well with the New Zealanders and started losing his control on the team/players as the tour progressed. Mclean writes that Craven’s compulsion to tell every mortal soul “We’ve come here to beat you” was the least of his flaws. He had a liking for several annoying terms of speech. “By gad”, was one. “Make no mistake about that,” was another but his biggest flaw was his habit of not preparing his speeches and shooting from the hip when he talked to the press.
As a great admirer of the honest mind, I was much attracted by his willingness to speak frankly, astonishingly frankly, about aspects of the tour writes McLean in his book “The battle for the rugby crown”. As sometimes happens, this honesty was the Achilles’ heel in his make-up and of the 1956 touring team.
The climax of the tour came after the loss against Canterbury due to a very controversial penalty. Craven in spite of his original decision not to say anything about the match/referee could not contain himself later that night when McLean asked him, “Well, Danie, about this refereeing...”. The flood gates opened. “I am not,” he said lugubriously, “a happy man tonight.” There were attempts to temper the scoop and McLean plays the innocent victim but the article got published and all hell broke loose thereafter.
The reaction was immediate. The public began to write letters, to Craven and the Press. Craven worked harder and harder, deputing little or nothing, making all or almost all of the important speeches. The buffets went on. If it was not rough play, it was tendentious reporting in, as he once called it, “the filthy Press”. If it was not refereeing standards, it was the method of appointment of referees – a beautiful row, this one; very nearly a donnybrook. If it was not inspired and antipathetic newsreel shots of rough play by Springboks, it was the rugged play of the All Blacks teams.
So he departed, dejected and disillusioned.
Many years later when Craven was 80 years old Warwick Roger interviewed him for his book “Old Heroes’ and this is what Craven had to say:
“I am not as enamoured with that tour as you people are. Not because we didn’t win, but because it was, for other reasons, one of the worst tours I ever experienced. It wasn’t a happy team. It is difficult to talk about people who are still alive or whose relatives are still alive, and I don’t like doing it, but politics played a very big role in that team. Usually when South Africa goes on tour we forget about politics. I don’t know that I should say any more. It was more of a domestic thing. It wasn’t rugby politics, but rugby politics can be used for the other kind.
The team was so unpopular that when we played against the Rest of South Africa, just after the team’s return, a section of the Ellis Park crowd booed us, me in particular. That was terrible, a bad show.
In New Zealand it seemed that you were obsessed with what had happened here in 1949, and in 1956 was to you a revenge tour. It turned out to being a matter of us having to lose, irrespective of how.
I’ve always enjoyed New Zealand, but, you know, you’re funny people. You’re wonderful until it comes to winning or losing, then, by Gad, it’s only one thing and that’s winning. You are much worse than South Africans in that respect.”