Thursday, March 28, 2019

New Zealand's first contribution to South African rugby

The following article appeared in Dunedin's Evening Star on April 13, 1928 in a special feature celebrating the departure of the 1928 team for their tour of South Africa

"Most followers of rugby probably think that the New Zealand Army team that toured Africa in 1919 was the first New Zealand side to display its prowess in the land of the veldt, and they will be interested to learn that a side of dominion players made its mark there in 1903.

It was after the Boer War that a number of young New Zealanders settled in South Africa and that sufficient of them came to live near Pretoria to allow of the formation of a modest social and sports club. Among the British, Dutch, and colonials there was much competition for appointments in the new civil administration, but the New Zealanders received quite a fair share. All hands settled down to work, and later to play. It was only to be expected that when a Rugby football competition was inaugurated that the New Zealanders should take stock of themselves and form a team. About seventeen, many with senior football experience in New Zealand, and some who had gamed interprovincial honors (sic), were found who were willing and anxious to try conclusions with the best the Transvaal could produce. 

But the Transvaal Rugby Union flatly turned down the application, of the New Zealanders to be entered as a senior team. Considerable heart-burning followed, and representatives were sent to plead with the controlling body, who thought a few New Zealanders could hardly produce a team class (sic) enough to make anything like a respectable showing against the crack Transvaal teams. To prove to the New Zealanders that they were not class enough the T.R.U. invited them to play a game against ” The Diggers,” who had the champion team of the Transvaal.

In an amused but sporting manner, the New Zealanders accepted the challenge, it being agreed that if they made a reasonable showing they would be admitted to the inner circle. When the day of the great match arrived—it was played at Johannesburg—the New Zealand team could muster only fourteen players. The surprising result of this match, in which the New Zealand team was reduced to thirteen men in the second half, was that the Diggers, with a full team, scraped home by only 11 to 9. In the eyes of the T.R.U. it was as good as a win for the New Zealanders, who were admitted without delay to the senior grade competition.

During the 1903 season the New Zealand team, frequently playing short owing to the long distances that had to be travelled, won every match of the competition, when it was beaten by the Wanderers by a single try for the championship. The Wanderers held an unbeaten record for the season. An Auckland writer last year gave (from memory) the team which played in the first match as follows:—Full-back, J. Freeth (Wellington); three-quarters— Merle Bonnor (West Coast), Tom Baker (Hawke’s Hay), Pat Fitzherbert (Manawatu); five-eight, Jack Gatland; (Thames) ; half-back, Fritz Haselden Rangitikei); wing forwards, H. Knight (King Country), Willoughby Wilson (Auckland) ; forwards—Geoffrey Haselden (Rangitikei), Burton Taplin (Manawatu), Charlie Lewin (Christchurch), “Yorky” Smith (Auckland), Jock McGregor (Thames), “Toby” Foreman, (Taranaki). Others who played in the team were “Scotty” Peebles (Woodville), and W.H. Foster (Wellington). In a match against a side at Pretoria the British team of internationals me. a three-quarter line all New Zealanders.

The part which New Zealanders played in the development of African Rugby in another part of the country was referred to in an interesting article written for the ‘ Star ’ in 1921 (at the time of the Springboks’ visit here) by the late honorary secretary of Pietermaritzburg Rugby Union (a resident of Dunedin). He stated: ‘Members of the Tenth South African Contingent may remember the doings of their team, led by D. Gallagher (All Black captain). After easily defeating; the leading Transvaal teams, they met and defeated a representative Maritzburg team by a narrow margin. 

On my arrival in Durban in 1903 I joined the New Zealand R.F.C. This 'club had commenced the previous year. Prior to that date Rugby enthusiasts could only muster occasional scratch teams. We played out on a mud flat, with a handful of spectators; but the New Zealanders had such an excellent team —we had Australians as members, too—and played such open and pretty football that gradually keen rivalry was started, other clubs were established, and eventually Rugby gained a footing at Lord’s, the big Durban sports ground.

“It was almost entirely due to the little band of New Zealand enthusiasts that Rugby became a popular game in Durban. The Durban New Zealanders were disbanded in 1907, but during their career they held the championship cup of Natal for five consecutive years, defeating the Pietermaritzburg Club on each occasion. During 1904 the South African College team, winners of the Cape competitions of that year, toured Africa, and defeated all the leading clubs in the Transvaal and Eastern Province, besides defeating representative Durban and Pietermaritzburg teams. The only match lost on the tour was that against the Durban New, Zealanders, who defeated this redoubtable team by 4 points to 3). A. J. Sise, a well-known Dunedin boy, was playing in this match. The only “fly in the ointment” of this game was that we were one man short, and played Dave Nourse, the well-known South African representative cricketer and Soccer player. Nourse also represented Natal at Rugby, and he fluked tho potted that goal that won us the match. 

“In the 1905 Durban representative team there were nine New Zealanders, and there were six in the Natal team of the following year which toured Johannesburg for the Currie Cup tournament of 1906. At Pretoria, the New Zealanders also had a club and took a leading place in the senior matches on the Rand. Other New Zealanders could be found sprinkled throughout the union in the various clubs.”

Friday, March 8, 2019

Harshness reflected in 1972-73 tour account

Sports books revisited, No.3
It's said that it is important to maintain a healthy balance and that due consideration should be given to all sides of an argument before making a judgment on all manner of events.

That thought kept running through the brain when revisiting J.B.G. Thomas' account of the 1972-73 tour of Britain and France by Ian Kirkpatrick's All Blacks, The Avenging All Blacks.

Thomas was among the first of the British rugby critics who used to provide New Zealand rugby fans with all manner of angst for his reported comments on games involving the All Blacks. He and T.P. McLean were seen as journalistic rivals, much in the manner of the great Australian poets Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson, forever competing over the justice or injustice of the award or non-award of Bob Deans' try in 1905. The comparison with the poets is intended as an example, not of their literary capabilities.

In maintaining that sense of balance it must be said the McLean had the ability to upset the British in the same way as Thomas did antipodean readers.

Overall The Avenging All Blacks was a disappointing read. If Thomas made the point that the All Blacks were insular, uncommunicative and dour once, he made it ad infinitum throughout the book.

Halfback Sid Going came in for plenty of treatment, as he did on tour for his perceived inaccurate feeding of the ball to scrums, a campaign waged throughout the media all tour. Going's truculence toward the media was understandable given the pressure that had started against him a year earlier during the 1971 British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand.

But as Going explained in Behind the Silver Fern, British medical officials had tried to have him ruled out of the tour with an 'irreparable ankle injury' after the first tour game. Going felt he was being set up from the outset.

There was a sense of hungover triumphalism as a result of the Lions' success in much of Thomas' coverage of the tour. He didn't attend every game, a broken arm restricted his ability to travel, but he called on New Zealand scribe Bob Howitt to fill in the blanks for him.

In terms of a contribution to the annals of rugby literature, the most valuable part of the book is the foreword by Lions' coach Carwyn James, a man who cast his own influence over the tour by coaching Llanelli to beat the All Blacks in their second game of the tour, and for working with the Barbarians in the outstanding tour finale in which Gareth Edwards scored his outstanding try.

Even now James' words ring true: "The strength of New Zealand rugby is, and in fact always has been, in the power of its forwards, in the magnificent way they support and back one another up, the way they drive into the ruck and the next ruck, and in the contrived way they set up artificial platforms for delivery of the usable ball. The pattern is machine-like in its precision; it calls for dedication discipline; it is highly technical and teachable, and it is governed and controlled by the coaches who are very much in command of the game they know, and will not allow it to develop into an area which they do not comprehend or is not coachable."

At the same time, James said the rigidity of the approach while suggesting strength was also inhibiting and with that in mind the strength became a weakness. James believed the loss to Llanelli inhibited Ian Kirkpatrick's side causing them to play a game based around their loose forwards and halfback Going.

James believed, after seeing the attacking potential of the side unleashed late in the tour at Leicester and Neath when 40-point scores (four-point tries then) were posted, that if they had started their tour again, with the benefit of what they had learned, they would have been a formidable side.

Presciently James noted: "The question facing New Zealand rugby thinkers now is this – can they afford to stick to their traditional pattern, play the Going type scrum-half and neglect the genius of generations of exciting players like [Bob] Burgess, [Bruce] Robertson and [Bryan] Williams. I think not."

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and James' view was not long in being borne out, especially in the late-1970s, the late-1980s and, of course, since the introduction of the professional game.

Like many British journalists, Thomas placed too much emphasis on referees, in his case determining who were good chaps and deciding who had the best interests of one side at heart, and that one side wasn't the All Blacks. He also had his say on the Murdoch incident although, unlike a good wine, it hasn't aged well as time has revealed more pertinent facts. As a representation of the time, it could best be described as typical of the day.

It should be said, in the interests of the aforementioned balance, that New Zealand's journalists struggled with the tour, McLean titled his own account They Missed the Bus. 

But longer-term benefits of the tour did occur. New Zealand's back play did advance. Future tours were much happier and the side did achieve much recognition for their travelling to Belfast to play Ulster in the midst of Northern Ireland's troubles. It wasn't all bad, and that deserved to be recognised.

Whatever happened to the dropped goal?

2019 Rugby Almanack, edited by Clive Akers, Geoff Miller and Adrian Hill. Published by Mower.

The extraordinary rise of loosehead prop Karl Tu'inukuafe has been recognised by the editors of the New Zealand Rugby Almanack by his choice as one of the five players of the year, and as starting prop in their Almanack XV.

Coming from obscurity, without a contract and only a week-by-week connection with the Chiefs in Investec Super Rugby, Tu'inukuafe played 13 Tests in his first season and headed the player regarded as the best loosehead in the world, Joe Moody, for the honour. Moody managed only six Tests during the year.

In an otherwise predictable choice, the selectors opted for Ben Smith at fullback rather than on the wing where he played most of his Tests last year. 

The Almanack XV was: 1.Karl Tu'inukuafe, 2.Codie Taylor, 3.Owen Franks, 4.Samuel Whitelock, 5.Brodie Retallick, 6.Liam Squire, 7.Ardie Savea, 8.Kieran Read (captain), 9.Aaron Smith, 10.Beauden Barrett, 11.Rieko Ioane, 12.Ryan Crotty, 13.Jack Goodhue, 14.Waisake Naholo, 15.Ben Smith.

Substitutes: 16.James Parsons, 17.Ofa Tuungafasi, 18.Angus Ta'avao, 19.Scott Barrett, 20.Sam Cane, 21.TJ Perenara, 22.Richie Mo'unga, 23.Damian McKenzie.

The Happenings section of the Almanack is always a delight for the statistical achievements that are often overlooked in mainstream media coverage of the game. 

One item demonstrated the impact of Beauden Barrett at international level. By achieving the top scoring status in world rugby last year he became only the second player, and first All Black, to finish top in consecutive seasons since the introduction of the professional game. It was the third consecutive year he kicked most conversions in Test rugby and he became the first first five-eighths to score four tries in a Test after his effort against Australia at Eden Park. His 25 tries, as a first five-eighths, is the most in Test history – 23 of them being scored in the last three years.

Putting that record into perspective, World Rugby player of the year, and first five-eighths, Johnny Sexton hasn't scored any tries in the last three years. Barrett's 30 points against Australia was the most against them by any player.

In making their annual review of the season, the editors highlighted the neglect of the dropped goal in New Zealand rugby. Astonishingly, there were no dropped goals recorded in first-class matches in 2018 in New Zealand.

It had been 101 years since that last happened, and that when only 15 first-class games were played in 1917 during the First World War. Beauden Barrett kicked two during the All Blacks' northern tour and they were the sum total on the first-class record.

"Considering defence is much practised, analysed and coached these days, it is surprising to us that the dropped goal is not an option against these well-set defences, particularly post the set pieces," the editors said.

Evidence showed that dropped goals could have changed results in the dying moments of at least three games last year: the Wellington Test against South Africa, the Mitre 10 Cup final when Auckland declined a drop kick chance when the scores were tied in the final minute, resulting in 20 minutes of overtime, and the Heartland Lochore Cup final when Wairarapa Bush chose not to attempt a shot which would have forced extra time. They lost the final by three points.

In recognition of the increasing place of women in the New Zealand game the editors have extended their coverage of the women's game in the Almanack, including their women's players of the year, Kendra Cocksedge and Sarah Goss, and their Almanack XV, for the first time.

The team was: 1.Phillipa Love, 2.Fiao'o Faamausili (captain), 3.Aldora Itunu, 4.Eloise Blackwell, 5.Charmaine Smith, 6.Lesley Elder, 7.Sarah Goss, 8.Aroha Savage, 9.Kendra Cocksedge, 10.Ruahei Demant, 11.Portia Woodman, 12.Kelly Brazier, 13.Stacey Waaka, 14.Renee Wickliffe, 15.Selica Winiata.

Substitutes: 16.Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate, 17.Leilani Perese, 18.Aleisha Nelson, 19.Jackie Pater-Fereti, 20.Charmaine McMenamin, 21.Kristina Sue, 22.Chelsea Alley, 23.Michaela Blyde.