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'65 Springboks in Australia

The interesting thing about the 1965 test series against Australia is that Chris Greyvenstein does not refer to it anywhere in his book Springbok Saga; perhaps understandable considering the poor overall performance of this 1965 team in Australia. On reflection, one wonders whether it is just partisan reporting or purposely orchastrated by structuring the chapters, of his book, in such a way that he could hide Springboks disasters to some extend. Probably not but I couldn't help wondering.

The 65 team arrived in Australia -on a short tour on their way to New Zealand- with a perception that rugby in Australia was weak and were lacking depth. It was a wrong perception. Rugby in Australia went through some revolutionary changes in the early sixties due to the inspiring work of a man by the name of Norman McKenzie. This revolution was one of the primary reasons why, in 1964, Australia drew the test series with the Springboks in South Africa and gave the AB one of their biggest hidings (20-3) yet in Auckland, New Zealand.

Australia rugby was far from where they wanted to be and were indeed weak and underdeveloped in the vast areas of Western Australia, Victoria and Queensland, but in Sydney and surrounding areas the idea of pattern rugby had taken hold and were leading the way for the rest of the country.

Pattern rugby is what we, today, would refer to as 10-man rugby and was a massive step in the direction of more structure in Wallaby rugby, which until that time, were known in New Zealand as Ozzie style airy fairy rugby -today "razzle and dazzle" rugby. McKenzie, after making a thorough study of New Zealand rugby started to promote the idea of pattern rugby in Australian; that is that Australia should start playing with less freedom and more structure and discipline and precision, on the basis of strong forward play. The main trust was that Australia should reduced the freedom and frilleries in their play and start concentrating upon careful, calculated planning, the reduction of mistakes to the lowest possible number, and the development of team-play to the kind of pattern favoured for many years in New Zealand.

It is astounding that Springbok management did not notice these changes in Australian rugby and did not see the danger lights after Australia, in 1964, drew 2 all with the Springboks in SA; brimming with self-assured confidence South Africa took a serious nose dive when they came up against a well coached, experienced and talented Wallaby side. The thing that made the Aussies so dangerous is that they did not loose their ability to "razzle and dazzle" in the transformation process but were now able to used it selectively on the back of pattern and precise forward play.

The media's first impressions of the Springboks in Australia were that they were a very good team with speed, and deception. In the first 3 matches against Western Australia (Perth, 2 matches) and Victoria (Melbourne, 1 game), the Springboks started with a "hiss and a roar" achieving proper wins against teams with relatively weak packs and weak defensive patterns. McLean, after the first two matches in Perth, wrote:

I confess to being shaken by the possibilities in each of these teams. The average pace was high. Even better was the backing up.

He writes that the defence of the opposition teams were weak but that the Spingbok's instinct for backing-up, for being in the right place at the right time, seemed to be keenly developed. Hannes Marias played in both matches (in Perth) because Abie Malan hadn’t yet caught-up with the team. The Springboks won the first game with a score of 60-0 and the second game with 102-0. Almost all the players had good matches but McLean mentioned a few who he thought were outstanding such as Tommy Bedford, Jannie Engelbrecht, Frik du Preez and Keith Oxlee.

Kerneels Cronje -Eastern Transvaal wing- was particularly impressive until he got injured in the 58th minute of the first game. Terry McLean writes about Kerneels Cronje as follows:

Cornelius Cronje looked the most exciting and promising back in the team of the unofficial match on opening day in Perth. His speed -100 yards in 9.8 s- and a strong surging swerve suggested that he could be the sensation of the tour.

Cronje however never recovered from the "injury". After many treatments and medical assessments, during which no real injury could be identified, and after an unsuccessful attempt to get back on the field in Christchurch, he was sent home and replaced by Eben Olivier.

The second official game (the 102-0 win in Western Australia was not an official game) was against Victoria in Melbourne. The Springboks won the game with ease 52-0 against weak opposition. It was after this game that Brain Palmer, a Wallaby in the 1920's, noted that this Springbok team has the potential to be one of the best teams of all time as they have pace and deceitfulness. The ability of the forwards and backs to combine on attack, with good support play, by running themselves in position, to see space, to anticipate was the things that mostly impressed the critics. Bedford's speed and support play, Nomis's acceleration and speed of the mark, Barnard's nimble deceitfulness and decision making, Du Preez's power and overall game and Truter's willingness to be involved and to find work from the wing, were in general things that stood out.

One theme, can however be found like a golden thread in Terry McLean,s narrative (The bok busters) namely the Springboks lights and unstructured practice sessions and specifically their tendency to neglect scrummaging, rucks and lineout’s during practice. The emphasis was on run and ran again with the ball. McLean's impressions are insightful:

Mostly running was done at practice. Everybody ran around, all the time, until, at the end, there was some scrimmaging which did not manage to look authoritative. Only twice in all this scampering, which lasted the best part of 90 minutes, did I see a man deliberately fall down with the ball to permit a ruck to form over him in the time-honored New Zealand way.

This negligence or absence of forward play during practice sessions, had a major impact on the results of the series against Australia and also cost South Africa the test series against New Zealand. The wheels came off the first time the Springboks came up against a team with a solid and thoroughly drilled forward pack. This happened four days after arrival; the deficiencies in the Springbok team of 65 were clearly highlighted when they played and lost 3-12 against New South Wales -which contained 14 players playing for the Wallabies at the time- in Sydney.

The inexperience of Springbok forwards and the lack of substantial scrum, lineout and rucking at practice were clearly demonstrated by their inability to cope with the aggressive and intimidating forward play of the Sydney team. There were no tough guy's (brekers of ysters) in the Springbok team who could sort the bullies in the opposing team. The worst was that management and senior players could not see the reason for the loss or identify the problem areas and rectify it. The problems were clear to see for every one with half an idea about rugby. Terry McLean sum it up in one paragraph:

So my catalogue of Springbok weaknesses would include line-out incompetence, want of zest in following the ball, certain slowness in pass by de Villiers, ominous air of careful consideration to Oxlee’s play and, outside, the most ghastly number of mishandelings and dropped passes, with a special mark against Gainsford.

It was obvious within not more than 15 minutes that the Springboks were in for a licking. The statistics said that New South Wales won the lineouts by 36 to 25 and because they were statistics they probably right. But the immediate memory is that the Springboks scarcely ever won the ball. 

Dawie de Villiers, according to McLean had "a certain slowness in pass". Here, de Villiers is caught with the ball in one of the tour matches in New Zealand.

The halves (no 9 and 10) as well as the playmakers at centre struggled in this match -being under constant pressure- as a result of the pack being on the back foot. McLean was of the opinion that none of the Springbok forwards weighed up to the class of the Sydney team and were totally overshadowed by the forwards in the New South Wales team. He was in particular appalled by the lack of zest; the poor defence; the neglect to follow-up and the general lethargy demonstrated by the Springboks. As previously mentioned 14 of the players in the New South Wales side also played for the Wallabies in the first test, the next Saturday. 

Keith Oxlee. About Oxlee Terry McLean wrote: After being enormously impressed with Oxlee's class at Perth, I now saw, that the man had become an old hand who was not prepared to die for South Africa. 

John Gainsford. About Gainsford McLean writes: Good-looking, charming, almost over confident, a glamour boy to the world's press. He has reached a stage of believing his own press cuttings.

Kobus Louw had been hoping that the team would all go to the airport to welcome Abie Malan arriving form South Africa. The idea was that it would strengthen team unity, forge the bonds of brotherhood and so on. McLean wrote:

But Sydney girls are among the world's most attractive, and I am afraid that some of the boys, way-laid themselves rather than answer the call of the Bugle.

Speaks volumes doesn’t it? First, the manager "hoped" for something instead of the manager decided; here we have a team who had just lost their first tour match and there is no reflection, no remorse and no unhappiness; more important was the "Seedney gieels"

Test series against Australia

The 18 days (8 June, 1965 - 26 June, 1965) the Springboks spent in Australia read like a soap opera. There were so many petty and ridiculous off the field incidents, which were milked by the media for sensation, that it is actually ludicrous.

Terry McLean put it as follows: Never in the field of rugby conflict can there have been so much fuss over so little.

The Springboks were mostly the creators of these petty incidents, instead of focussing their attention on rugby and on their own game/practice sessions and preparation for the second test they kept themselves busy with all sorts of prima dona behaviour and then tried to justify their actions. Mostly childish acts resulting from the fact that neither the captain nor the two managers (Kobus Louw and Hennie Muller) were dynamic enough as leaders.

There was the hotel issue; the vicious article in the Transvaler on Australian referees; the Piet Botha/Hawthorne incident and the invitation to an Army lunch. All these incidents occurred after the first test when the Springboks attention should have been on analysis of the first test and on tactics for the second test. One also get the idea (perhaps not consciously done or deliberately planned) that the Springboks were “happy” with the interest given to the off-field incidents because it draw the attention away from their poor performance during the first test.

Australia 18 South Africa 11

Terry McLean is straight forward in his opinion that the referee, on the day, was pathetic. South Africa where punished to such an extent that some of the Springboks went into a "frenzied state of rage". Mr. Ferguson -the referee- awarded 10 penalties for the Wallabies and only two for the Springboks in the first half and 7 vs. 3 in the second half. Australia was awarded a total of 17 penalties -basically all their penalties- within kickable distance while the Springboks were granted only 1 penalty, during the whole match, within kickable range.

Abie Malan was warned that he will be sent off the field if he questions the referee again, on the reason for a penalty; this happened after the referee has already added 10 yards to the penalty. The Australians had a refined technique to play offside by creeping past the last man's feet when the ball reached the feet of the opposition's no 8-feet and where therefore able to put the Springbok playmakers under extreme and constant pressure. They were not penalized and McLean is unsure whether the referee was just incompetent in this regard or whether he purposely turned a blind eye on procedings. The Springboks legitimate though hard tackling were also repeatedly punished as dangerous play.

McLean writes: 

The whingeing which went on among the South Africans on the field irritated Mr. Ferguson, so much that he made threats of execution against several players and confusedly named Naude for some incident. "If you order me from the field for this" Naude said, "I shall refuse to go." But this was nothing compared to the bitterly complaining which went on later among the Springboks at the Oceanic Hotel.

What a day. What a pity. For the plain unvarnished truth was that there was only one team in the match and it did not come from South Africa.

Apart from a breakaway movement, and try by Engelbrecht, the Springboks were pinned down -defending like daemons - in their own 25 for the whole of the first half. Vulnerable against chip kicks just behind the backline, as a result of wings and a fullback being tentative and slow to fall on the ball, the Australian 9 and 10 pestered the Springboks with tactical punts and kept them on the back foot, pinning them down in their own 25 yards area. After 15 minutes' play and two penalties in favour of Australia, the Aussie no 10, Hawthorne, broke blindside - from a scrum almost in front of the poles - and with a long pass sent Lenehan (no 15) away for a try in the corner.

Tommy Bedford were tackled by one of the Aussie wings and consequently obstructed/prevented to reach the try scorer. The Aussie player apologized to Bedford afterwards but the incident was not seen or ignored by the match officials (referee and lines men) and the try stood.

After 30 minutes in the first half Engelbrecht gathered a kick by Barnard - out of the Springboks 25 yard area- which bounced off one of the Aussie wings and ran 40 meters for the Springboks first try. Naude converted. The halftime score was 12-5 in Australia's favour.

In the 74th minute after several penalty attempts by the Australians Barnard made an crazy and impulsive attempt in own 25 yards area to beat a man. He was caught in possession and threw a desperate 50/50 pass which went to ground. Steward Boyce dribbled the ball down the touch line and with a dive got the try before the ball reached touch-in-goal.

Late in the second half the Springboks were on constant attack; they first got a penalty which Naude converted. From the kick off and with play time almost expired the ball bounced off Roux and a ruck developed from which Nellie Smit raced away to the blindside, passed a little too soon to Engelbrecht but the latter had sufficient speed to get in at the corner. Naude missed with the conversion. It was, however, too little too late and the boks lost the test with 7 points.

The Springbok team who played in the first test were:

Wilson, Engelbrecht, Gainsford, Roux, Brynard, Barnard, Smith (Captain), Bedford, du Preez, Naude, Botha, Schoeman, Parker, Malan, McDonald.

Note that Frik du Preez played on the flank in this test.

The Australian team for this match were:

Lenehan, Boyce, Marks, Ellwood, Boyce, Hawthorne, Catchpole, Shepherd, O’Gorman, Heming, Crittle, Davis, White, Johnson, Thornett (Captain).

From Sydney, the Springboks travelled to Brisbane for their next match against Queensland. It is here where the first of a series of off-the-field incidents began.

The Hotel issue in Brisbane.

Muller, Louw, de Villiers and Smith had a friendly and amicable meeting -on rules, referees, accommodation and hospitality- with the President of the Australian rugby union, Mr. Ramsden, Blunt, the treasurer, and Arthur Henry, president of New South Wales rugby union. The meeting took place in Sydney on the morning before Springboks left for Brisbane.

Relationships between the Boks and Australia rugby union representatives, however, severely acidified shortly after the Springboks’ arrival in Brisbane. Terry McLean describes it as follows:

After one look at the Globe and the seven rooms meant to house 21 of the players, the Tour Committee had had a meeting. Complaints were many and vehemently made. Abe Malan, seconded by Muller, had, I was told urgently demanded that the team move from the globe to a superior hotel. The only possible alternative was Lennons, the biggest in the city and one of the most expensive in Australia.

Louw was on the telephone to Charles Blunt, Treasurer of the Australian union, for half an hour or more. The tension was palpable. Louw quietly but very firmly pressed the opinion of the Tour Committee that there must be a change. Vainly was it pleaded that Lions and All Blacks, not to mention the Wallabies, had stayed at the Globe and admitted it endured because of comforts. Louw rebutted this charge by pointing to the record returns from matches in Sydney, where the two matches had yielded gross rates of more than 24.000 pounds.

This incident did not go off very well in the New Zealand, Australian and South Africa media, particularly when it later also became known that the Springboks dined in the snack-bar and not in Lennons main dining hall at a cost of 1.400 pounds.

The incident was front page news and the Springboks move from the Globe to Lennons was followed paparazzi-style by the media and reports were spiced-up with the fact that the South African journalists, on tour, stayed in the Globe because they felt the accommodation and food were excellent.

The SA media and the SA Rugby Board also strongly criticized this behaviour, and one senior SA rugby board member was quoted as follows:

If, during the trials, I had gone to every player and said, 'Now look here, you can be a Springbok, you can tour Australia and New Zealand, but if you do you will sleep ten to a room, on the floor, with only one wardrobe among the lot of you. Or you can have your comfort and stay at home and not be a Springbok. What will it be? "The answer from everyone, from everyone, would have been, 'I want to be a Springbok’.

The incident gathered further negative publicity when it leaked that the Springboks in the person of Abe Malan threatened the ARU that there will be no second test unless the move from the Globe to Lennons was approved. 

Abe Malan, who’s made himself very unpopular in NZ and Australia when it leaked that he in so many words, threatened the ARU with a boycott of the second test if they did not respond favourably to the Springboks’ request to move to another hotel.

The army incident

Relations between the Springboks and Australia rugby deteriorated even more when the commander of the Northern Command in Queensland invited 6 Springboks to lunch. After the invitation had been accepted, the affair evolved into a formal dinner with officers in full uniform and wives in new outfits at army headquarters. The arrangement was that the Springboks will be picked-up at a certain time in their hotel foyer. At the given time only one Springbok showed and he refused point-blank to go alone.

The formal military dinner proceeded without the Springboks and turned into a bitterness-venting-session. This incident was just another massive withdrawal from the emotional bank account of Australian rugby fans. The emotional tolerance point was exceeded to a point of saturation and Australians in general became increasingly negative towards the 1965 Springbok team.

McLean writes:

Some of the bitterness of this, the Great Walkout, of the complaints about referees, of the complaints (so some felt) about everything, was in the voice of the leading Australian Rugby Union Official who said, a few hours before the Springboks flew to Auckland, "I hope you kiwi's beat the bloody daylights out of these coves."

South Africa 50; Queensland 5

Between the two tests, the Springboks played a game against Queensland (Reds in S14 terms). Queensland began the 1965 season with two solid performances against New South Wales and there was hope that their rugby was on an upward curve. The massive defeat against a Springboks side not firing on all silinders was consequently somewhat of a demoralising affair for Queensland rugby.

The Springboks displayed, for the first time on tour, some energy and intention at the breakdowns. Hopwood, Ellis and Lofty Nel lead the way with an attitude of the ball, the ball, the ball while Goosen at lock and Hannes Marais on prop contributed with energetic rucking over the ball at the contact points. The result was that Nellie Smit looked much sharper and that Keith Oxlee had an outstanding game on 10. Oxlee’s decision making and tactical kicking was impressive and one kick to the corner was so precisely placed that Truter at wing were able to ran into it at full speed allowing him to beat the defence and to score an outstanding try behind the poles. Roux and Nomis did not combine well on centre and the referee awarded 22 against and 9 penalties for the Springboks.

Nevertheless, it was an impressive victory for the Springboks and they scored 10 tries in the following order: Truter (converted by Oxlee), Marais, Ellis (Oxlee), Mans, Truter (Oxlee), Nel, Nel (Oxlee), Truter (Oxlee), Marais (Oxlee) and Nel.

McLean however, made the following remark about the Springboks performance in this match:

There was one principal fault which probably developed from the flow of the game. The Springbok forwards were pretty loose to start with and totally loose at the finish. Not for the first time in Australia, I wondered whether they had a soft underbelly and wondered too, whether New Zealanders would be capable of sighting on this and, in a perfectly legal way, hitting it.

Springbok team:

Mulder, Mans, Nomis, Roux, Truter, Oxlee, Smith (Captain), Hopwood, Ellis, Goosen, Janson, Nel Marais, Malan, Van Zyl.

In week preceding the second test two stories in particular dominated in the newspapers namely the Piet Botha/Hawthorne incident apology, and the story of a vicious piece published in the Transvaler (in South Africa) regarding Hennie Mullers' view on Aussie referees.

The Piet Botha/Hawthorne incident apology

The New Zealand Herald and one of the Australian newspapers ran a story that the Springboks tour committee has apologized for the incident in the first test during which Piet Botha (the Springboks one lock forward) stepped on the face of Aussie no 10 (Hawthorne) and blooded him. Hawthorne left the field with blood streaming down his face. Botha apparently in frustration with the referee "lost his head" and the team publically announced that they were sorry and embarrassed about the incident.

On confirmation inquiries -that there actually was an apology- both Louw and Muller denied that such an official apology was issued. Later it became apparent that there was indeed some sort of an apology but that Louw and Muller was not informed about it. Does not sounds healthy, does not sound if the left and right hand knew what the other one was doing, sound like there were too many "chiefs" in the group and leave one with the impression that the morning and evening stories -of the team committee and team managers- were not consistent; sound like there was some anxious verbal gymnastics in the Springbok camp, like a cat on a hot sink roof. 

Piet Botha Springbok lock who were in the midst of a media hubbub over a stepping incident on the face of Aussie no 10, Hawthorne. About Botha Terry McLean wrote: Botha was more or less the No. 1 lock in Australia and he might have remained this if it had not been for the injury which dislocated his shoulder in the first training run in New Zealand. He had exceptional speed for such a large man, a good deal of "bite" and, of course he made his opponents look like pygmies. Botha and the famous Maori forward, Albert Pryor, formed a close friendship. Pryor a man of sardonic wit, used to gaze speculatively at Botha's huge frame. "In the good old days," Albert used to say, "us Maoris used to take great pleasure in eating big black bastards like you." 

Ken Catchpole brilliant Australian scrumhalf gets his line moving with Lofty Nel and Doug Hopwood in the background. Catchpole played agianst the springboks in 1963 and 1965 and must be ranked as one of the best scarumhalves of all time, according to Chris Greyvenstein. His nursing made the 19-year-old Phil Hawthorne a top-class flyhalf overnight and they were instrumental in springboks series loss during 1965 series.

The report in the Transvaler

A vicious report appeared in the Transvaler indicating that Hennie Muller was of the opinion that with the aid of referees, Rugby is being turned into a weapon of hate against South Africa.

Muller’s answer was that the report was absolute madness; John du Toit -the Transvalers media man on tour- was in the firing line but denied vehemently that he had written anything of that nature. He had carbon copies of his original articles delivered to the team as prove of his innocence.

Second Test, June 26, 1965, Australia 12 - South Africa 8

It was one of those frustrating matches which leave you afterwards with the feeling that Australia did not win the match but that South Africa lost it because of simple mistakes and poor decision making.

McLean writes:

Everybody, or almost everybody, said afterwards that the Springboks were the better team and should have won. The Springboks robbed themselves. They conceded 16 penalties, eight of which were from goal kicking positions and from which the Australians scored all of their points.

McLean continues to describe how the Springboks three quarters made three brilliant line breaks -scoring two glorious tries as a result of it- within the first 13 minutes just for the Springboks then too to stop running with the ball and neglect their back line completely for the rest of the match. Furthermore, the Springboks butchered five certain try scoring opportunities with individualistic play and faulty decision-making; from two separate five meters scrums first Bedford and later Truter decided to plunge to the line on their own steam neglecting to move the ball wide to players in the open.

Roux -close to the Wallaby goal line- with two players in the open next to him popped up a little punt, over the heads of the opposition, that got caught by the defenders; Nel was held up over the goal line without a apparent decent attempt to get the ball on the ground. Truter was offered a fair pass with an open run to the goal line just to fumble it and drop it to the ground.

The game in general flowed much better than the first test, and Gainsford scored the Springboks first try after a superb line break and a 80 meters run to the goal line. This brought the referee right back into the match and with extraordinary pernicketiness he started to methodically blow the South Africans out of the match; Barnard was first punished because he was closer than 10 meters from the line-out, as if distance could be precisely and accurately judged with the eye; Bedford standing at the back of the line-out gave half a step to the outside, to see past the tall timber in front of him what is happening up front, and got penalised for leaving and for re-entering the line-out; at one stage there were 9 consecutive penalties against the Springboks.

For the Springboks Gainsford and Truter scored with one being converted by Naude. Australia's points came from two penalties by Lenehan (no 15) and two by Elwood (no 13).

The Springbok team for the test were:

Wilson, Truter, Roux, Gainsford, Engelbrecht, Barnard, Smith (Captain), Bedford, du Preez, Naude, Botha, Nel, Parker, Malan, Marais.

Australian team for this match were:

Lenehan, Boyce, Marks, Ellwood, Boyce, Hawthorne, Catchpole, Shepherd, O’Gorman, Heming, Crittle, Guerassimoff, White, Johnson, Thornett (Captain). 

Nellie Smith the Springbok captain for two tests against Australia, Dawie de Villiers was injured. About Nellie Smith Terry McLean wrote: Micha Cornelius Smith was a grave slow-spoken man of irreproachable behaviour and impeccable sportsmanship. Unfortunately, he had a slow pass and it was only in the wet, notably against North Auckland, that his other qualities - natural strength, good hands and sound concentration - became more prominent.