September 5 1981

Auckland v South Africa 1981

Though having a somewhat average season to date Auckland fielded a number of All Blacks and were expected to push the South Africans. The reality turned out to be quite different.

Brad Johnstone, Auckland captain.

DAY 49 Auckland, September 5, v Auckland

Eden Park presented a strange sight. The demand for tickets had not been especially heavy, none had been available to the general public (which was nothing new) and so vast blocks of tickets were not released. As a result the No 5, 6 and 7 open concrete stands, the “Richard Hadlee Grandstand” of the madcap summer crowds, were empty. So were two temporary stands, and half the open No 3 stand.

Barbed wire, too, but starting and finishing at the ends of the No 1 stand –  a mute tribute, perhaps, to the sensibility and deepish pockets of the members who sat there.

Johnstone, the Auckland skipper, is not one to turn a gift away. He won the toss, took first use of a brisk breeze and immediately Auckland were wafted along on to attack. The Springboks again had their usual early-game jitters, with some hair-raising handling and passing near their line, and bad mistakes, too.

In the second minute Richard Dunn had a simple penalty attempt from 20 yards and in front, and bounced it away from an upright. Three minutes later a longer but reasonable chance, and that missed. The Springboks managed one long raid to the right corner, the Auckland scrum went askew, Geldenhuys picked up and dotted down. Simple.

Back came Auckland, with Whetton so out-jumping Jansen that Burger was moved up the line, but the points did not come. McCulloch missed with a drop-kick and after Dunn had a leg injury Farrell missed a penalty attempt. Gary Cunningham chased after a Farrell punt and knocked on in-goal. Farrell missed another penalty. Plainly it was not Auckland’s day. They several times had the Springbok line within reach, but the mistakes and not the points came.

Just before halftime the Auckland backs attacked hard to the right, and someone left the ball behind. So Germishuys kicked it on and on and on and some 90 yards later Gerber had the try in the corner, and Botha the conversion.

The Springboks must have thought all their birthdays had arrived at once. They faced a stiff breeze, they lacked for possession, they did not have control. Yet in half an hour they were 10-0 to the good, and 14-0 when Oosthuizen finished off a rolling attack by Serfontein, Bekker and Cockrell with a try in the corner.

From halftime it became merely a matter of how many the Springboks would win by. Botha snaffled a try between the posts, taking a quick tap close-in and with a little dummy outwitting the thin defence. Auckland came back to a useful ten minutes, which brought a try to Ramsey which Richard Fry, who had replaced McCulloch, converted, and a near-miss by Collinson.

Then the Springboks simply marched away with the game. Serfontein picked up an easy try from an Auckland blunder, Pienaar ran in another after Gerber had cut through and then, from 60 yards range, Botha drifted through one gap, beat Farrell with insolent ease and scored, genially offering Mordt the chance to convert. The Springboks 39-6, the game becoming a one-sided embarassment, their backs attacking yet again to the right and all of a sudden Farrell appeared with the ball and set off, chugging his way 80 yards downfield for the try and Fry’s conversion. Farrell had knocked the ball down and it bounced into his hands. The Springboks were sure it was a knock-on. The referee Tom Doocey was obstructed, could not see, and could only assume that Farrell had made a clean intercept. It really did not matter.

Auckland were awful, the Springboks had won 39-12 and everyone drifted away. During the first half a largish group of protesters had streamed down a hill far to the left of the playing field, cushioned by a large squad of police. By halfway through the second half they, too, had drifted away. They must have known what was likely to happen on the field.

Botha had a new notch on his gun. He had his usual bundle of kicking points, four conversions and a penalty goal. Besides he had two tries, both cleverly taken. He became an even more ominous threat for the third test in a week’s time.

From “Barbed Wire Boks” by Don Cameron, published by Rugby Press Ltd 1981, p.213-214.