Sunday, April 3, 2016

Bennie Osler runs into Mark Nicholls on muddy Newlands

Part Two: In which outstanding Springboks five-eighths Bennie Osler completes his description of the 1928 tour of South Africa by the All Blacks.

 When the All Blacks were in the final stages of their 1928 tour of South Africa they faced Western Province in their third last game, in Cape Town. Heavy rain overnight had the ground awash at 1pm on the day of the game.

Bennie Osler recalled the game on a tape recording that was transcribed and published in The South African Sportsman in January 1967.

"Newlands was a sea of mud and the correct tactics were obvious – the forwards must control the proceedings. We knew that we could out-scrum the All Blacks, who were still persisting with their 2-3-2 formation with one forward having a roving commission.

"Our captain Phil Mostert, decided that he would choose scrums to lineouts whenever he could and that I would use the boot to keep the All Blacks on their heels."

Osler recalled that the tactics 'worked like a charm'. However, while the All Blacks three-quarters were knocked over when they got any ball it wasn't the fault of any problems inside them.

"Bill Dalley, the All Black scrum-half, was a shining exception. He was simply great and I doubt if I ever saw a finer exhibition of scrum-half play behind a beaten pack," Osler said.

"It was mainly due to him – and a bad blunder by Jock van Niekerk – that the All Blacks had a 3-nil lead at half-time. Jock tried to stop Robilliard with a high tackle which the All Black wing shook off with ease and the next moment Dalley was up to take the pass and score."

In the second half the All Blacks lost centre Syd Carleton to injury which reduced the effectiveness of Ron Stewart who had to move to the three-quarters.

The All Blacks defence was stout however. Osler was able to level the scores with a penalty goal and then when wing P.K. Morkel unleashed a sidestep to score a try.

Several times Osler looked for a dropped goal only to find the All Blacks keen to deny him.

"We were seeing so much of the ball though that my chance had to come, and it did. I was going to try the blindside of the scrum when I noticed the entire defence swinging across to cut me off. I turned quickly on my left instead and ran a few yards infield.

"The posts were right in my sights and I even had time to aim deliberately before letting fly with my right boot. The sodden ball did not lift too easily but it somehow spun over the crossbar for four points," he said.

Soon after the final whistle blew on the All Blacks' fifth tour loss 3-10.

Hopes were high that the Springboks would do likewise in the deciding fourth Test.

But as Osler recounted the Springboks went into the Test 'just a little too confident and too complacently sure of ourselves'.

"Our mental attitude to the last test certainly played a big part in our defeat, but it was certainly not the only reason for the hiding we got. Oh no, that would be very unfair to the All Blacks' great performance that day.

"They staged one of the most glorious fight-backs in the history of rugby in that final test and deserved every bit of credit for winning," he said.

Osler noted it was the only Test in which Mark Nicholls, the vice-captain and veteran five-eighths, played.

"Why this player was so consistently overlooked throughout the tour I will never know, but we Springboks were certainly grateful that Mark did not get more opportunities against us.

"He gave such a masterful display that wet and miserable day at Newlands that I must rate him the finest fly-half I ever played against – on that one solitary performance.

"It was virtually a repeat performance of the first test of the series with the one important difference that this time the All Blacks wielded the whip. Their forwards came to light with a glorious performance and Nicholls dominated the match with his boot."

While the Springboks scored a first half try to J.C. van der Westhuizen, converted by Osler, Nicholls kicked two penalty goals to give New Zealand the half-time lead 6-5.

"In the second half the Springboks were hammered into the ground. The All Blacks held us even in the scrums and controlled the lineouts and the loose with some of the most fiery determined play I ever saw from any pack of forwards.

"Their dribbling rushes were difficult to stop and from one of them Swain got a try and then, to really rub it in, Mark Nicholls put over a beautiful drop goal to make the final score 13-5 – and we were very fortunate that the margin was not bigger."

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