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The good the bad and the ugly

Friday 24 September 2021 | Written by RNZ | Published in Rugby Union, Sports


The good the bad and the ugly
Gary Teichmann shakes hands with Sean Fitzpatrick. New Zealand All Blacks v South Africa. Athletic Park, Wellington 1998. Photo: © Photosport Ltd www.photosport.co.nz/21092326

The All Blacks and Springboks have 100 years of shared history, some glorious and some shameful. By Joe Porter of RNZ.

Tonight, the two teams play their 100th test, with the centenary match moved from Dunedin to Townsville due to the Covid pandemic.

In that 100 years there have been thrilling tests, watershed series victories, World Cup triumphs and of course controversy, including the infamous 1976 and 1981 tours.

The 1995 World Cup final wasn’t the most memorable of matches but the result was. South Africa's victory over the All Blacks coming at a time when something was desperately needed to unite the rainbow nation just a few years after Apartheid was abolished.

In 1976 the All Blacks were sent to Apartheid South Africa to tour, with the Māori members of the team made “honorary whites”.

Andy Leslie was All Blacks captain.

“We felt safe most of the time and we were shielded from most of the unrest.

“The only time we really got caught up in it was in Cape Town and the guys got tear gassed. They were walking down the street and there was a tear gas attack and all that. I can remember Kirky (Ian Kirkpatrick) and them coming back to the hotel and they had been in the middle of it.”

After the tour Leslie described South Africa as a country at war, while the tour led to protests and twenty-five African nations boycotting the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.

However, No.8 Leslie believes the rivalry between New Zealand and South Africa has never faltered.

“They were the team to beat. The All Blacks playing the Springboks in the day, they were your World Cup finals.”

Leslie’s love affair with All Blacks and Springboks rugby goes back to his childhood.

“I can remember sitting on the sideline on a plank of wood at Athletic Park, all of us kids sitting cross legged, and Tommy van Vollenhoven was playing on the wing and he just about landed on our laps.”

Leslie also remembers the 1956 tour here by the Springboks, where the All Blacks were seeking revenge following the 4-0 series loss in South Africa seven years earlier.

The Springbok forwards and front row had dominated and bullied the All Blacks in 1949 and with the four test 1956 series tied 1-1, prop Kevin Skinner was called out of retirement to stop the Springboks intimidation in the final two tests.

The hosts would go on to claim a 3-1 series win as New Zealand heavyweight boxing champion Skinner etched his named in rugby history.

Leslie recalls Skinner as a gentle giant off the field.

“Just the loveliest, most quietly spoken man, with such a reputation that you wondered whether it was all true.

“But, he was a very very strong man. He made sure none of us got pushed around. He slopped over the side of the scrum and looked after most things I think.”

While New Zealanders celebrated the 1956 series they were divided by the 1981 tour by the Springboks.

Apartheid had made South Africa an international outcast, and many New Zealanders didn’t want to have any sporting contact with the country.

It led to protests and clashes with police as more than 150,000 people took part in over 200 demonstrations around Aotearoa.

Graham Mourie was the All Blacks captain but made himself unavailable for the tour.

“South Africa had disenfranchised 80 per cent of the population from ever being able to represent their country in rugby.

“As All Blacks we always used to talk about the need to be able to get up and look yourself in the mirror the day after a test match and I think it was the right moral decision to make.”

After the tour, in which two games were cancelled due to protests, the All Blacks wouldn’t play the Springboks again until Apartheid had been abolished in the 1990s.

It took until 1996 for the All Blacks to first win a series in South Africa, but the rivalry since has leaned New Zealand’s way, with the All Blacks winning 32 of the last 43 tests.

The Springboks are coming off two losses to the Wallabies and the All Blacks are favourites to win tonight’s centenary test and seal the Rugby Championship crown.

However, the All Blacks coach Ian Foster isn’t reading much into South Africa’s recent form when it comes to tonight’s historic test.

“This has got a bit of a legacy moment about it –100 tests and 100 years.

“That’s certainly made it a bit special, and also the fact we haven’t played South Africa for a couple of years and have got a bunch of players really keen to measure themselves.

“I can only plan and expect them to be at their best.

“We’ve seen signs of that through the Lions series. I know people have used the word dire for that series, but it was a pinnacle event and they won it. The style of the win is probably irrelevant.

“Their goal will be to be ruthless and clinical. They’re at their best when they play a pressure game against you and when they play a power game against you. That's not to say they can't do other things, but that's when they’re at their best.

“We’re preparing for a South Africa team that’s been targeting this game and will come out with that focus. We’ve got to make sure in those two aspects we win that battle, so it’s a great challenge for us.”

And Beauden Barrett, who will start at first-five, said the All Blacks can’t afford to be complacent.

“A wounded Springbok is quite dangerous.”

The Springboks will need to be at their most dangerous in Townsville, where they must win with a bonus point to keep their slim title chances alive.