November 17 1982

NZ Maori in Spain

 

New Zealand Maori finished off their 1982 tour to Wales with a visit to Spain, an attempt to help an emerging rugby country.

Spanish RFU logo.

“SPANISH PRESIDENT’S XV

Kevin Boroevich sat forlornly in the grandstand at Barcelona’s Fuxarda Stadium, heavily dosed with penicillin, viewing philosophically the amount of facial growth on the Maoris’ other front rowers.

Billy Bush, Bruce Hemara and Paul Koteka, who comprised the front row for this historic encounter in Spain, all sported big beards and these, according to the team’s
physiotherapist, should be compulsory equipment for any front row forward touring overseas.

Boroevich was the only prop in the Maori team without a beard — and he paid the penalty, picking up an infection which spread to his ear. Physio Graeme Hayhow says that infection is easily spread among players, particularly front rowers, whose cheeks often brush against others, in scrums and mauls.
“A beard gives a player protection,” said Hayhow, “especially if he has a cut or a sore on his face.”

Boroevich, one of the most improved players in the Maori team, was put out of action for the final week after picking up an infection in a small scratch on the side of his face. It spread to his ear, causing him great pain and discomfort (and not a little concern), didn’t respond to the initial treatment and eventually required double-strength penicillin doses to bring him right.

Billy Bush, the player with the most luxuriant beard growth among the tourists (there were a couple of Spanish players who outdid him), didn’t have any similar problems. His problem, though, was that the Maori team management wanted to pension him off in Barcelona. The international against Spain remained but as far as manager Waka Nathan was concerned, this was Big Bad Billy’s farewell. That was why Bush was entrusted with the captaincy again, something which one would have said was impossible after his reckless leadership at Maesteg.

At the dinner which followed the Barcelona game Bush was given a presentation by Nathan, in recognition of his contribution to New Zealand Maori rugby. It was being done in Barcelona, Nathan assured the gathering, because this was Billy’s last game. The boys even performed a special haka in his honour. All very touching, except that when the side to meet Spain was announced 24 hours later, Bush was included! Boroevich’s infected ear and Scott Crichton’s bronchial chest had allowed Bush to complete one of the quickest comebacks in the history of the game!

Bush never did believe the Barcelona match was his last. When he accepted Waka’s presentation he said, in his laconic way, “Thanks, fellas, but I haven’t finished yet — I’m available to captain the side on Saturday.” He wasn’t the captain against Spain but he was very definitely among the Maoris’ hairy front row.

The Maoris arrived in Spain very much as trailblazers. Thanks to some excellent lobbying by New Zealander Roger Mahan, who had settled in Madrid in 1976 and promptly got himself involved in the promotion of rugby there, the New Zealand Rugby Union, encouraged by its Welsh counterpart, had agreed to become the first rugby nation to send a team of any significance there. They should more logically have tapered the tour off in Italy or Romania or America or Canada, but it was felt the emerging rugby nation that would benefit most was Spain.

There’s no doubt the Maoris’ visit gave Spanish rugby an enormous boost as well as providing an important yardstick by which Mahan and co could measure the standards and progress of the game.

Wayne Shelford, “Buck” to his colleagues, had a perplexing introduction to Spain. He arrived in Madrid minus his passport, having packed it away with his surplus baggage in London. After being detained in a waiting room at Madrid Airport while his team mates journeyed on to Barcelona, Shelford dozed away until midnight when a representative of the British embassy arrived and completed arrangements for a temporary passport. Shelford had to remain in Madrid overnight and didn’t reach Barcelona till late afternoon Monday. . . just in time to be commandeered by a rugby official and dragged off to the local radio station for an interview (through an interpreter). Somewhat reluctantly Shelford tagged along, figuring the questions would be innocent enough. Well, the first one was ’What do you, as a Maori, think of apartheid?”
“I thought, cripes, if that’s for starters, what else are they going to ask me?” said Shelford later. In fact, after he’d given a non-conunittal answer to that pearler -the remaining questions were comparatively innocuous.

Shelford half expected, by the time he rejoined his team mates — having missed the Monday practice session — to find himself relegated to the reserves. But the selectors were kindly disposed towards him, and he responded by scoring two of the Maoris’ 11 tries in what was a thoroughly entertaining, and at times delightfully amusing, contest.

Aware of the need to entertain in this rugby outpost, the Maoris pulled their fancy “Felix” move which they had been saving for just such an occasion. The move was so named because it had been introduced to the team by Felix O’Carroll who borrowed it from his Taranaki rep team’s repertoire.

The Maoris applied it at a tap penalty inside the Spanish President’s team’s 22 where Paul Blake, standing with his back to the opposition, tapped the ball as his forwards came thundering towards him. The obvious conclusion was that Bush or Koteka was going for a battering-ram drive towards the goalline, and the Spaniards, clustered on their goalline, were ready to meet the challenge. The instant Blake tapped the ball, they rushed forward.

But Blake didn’t pass the ball to anyone — he kicked it back over his shoulder. It wafted down behind the startled Spanish players and led to a hectic scramble over the goalline from which Bruce Hemara scored.

The match produced 12 tries, 11 to the Maoris and one to the Spanish right winger Gabriel Rovero who was hugged and applauded as if he’d fired in the cup winner at Wembley.

The spectacle was just the promotion the Spanish officials were after, with the Maoris tapping every penalty and uncorking a few highly original surprise moves such as the “Felix”.

The Spanish players were far from disgraced and measured up handsomely in scrummaging, counter-attacking and, initially, in tackling. But unfortunately the midfield backs lacked the resourcefulness of the two excellent wingers and displayed a notable reluctance to tangle with Arthur Stone and Vic Simpson. As a consequence Stone and Simpson carved through almost at will, creating oodles of scoring opportunities.

Stone’s determined running was a delight to watch. There were so many delicate touches to his play, and a back-hand flip that sent Simpson racing for a try was among the game’s highlights.

The Barcelona officials were panic-stricken when the Maoris scored 45 seconds after the kick-off and Richard Dunn coolly added the conversion from almost on the touchline. “Oh no,” cried one, “don’t let them score a hundred — we will be ridiculed.”

There was no fear of that as the gutsy Spanish players kept the Maoris scoreless for the next 20 minutes. In fact, it was only in the five minutes before halftime, when the Maris bagged 18 points, that the limitations in the Spanish game were exposed.

The game which kicked off at 8pm under lights was played on a beautifully prepared field which had a striking back-drop of a sheer cliff face. The crowd, about 3000, paid $NZ4 each for admission. Officials regarded the attendance as satisfactory in this soccer-mad city.”

The teams.

From “Haka – the Maori Rugby Story” by Winston McCarthy & Bob Howitt. Pub. 1983 by Rugby Press Ltd. P. 54-55.