June 24 1959
1959 Lions face strong comeback in Gisborne.
After opening their tour with a 40 point thumping of Hawkes Bay the Lions built a good lead in their next game, against Poverty Bay-East Coast, then had to struggle as the home team responded with two second half tries and finished strongly.
Thus Napier farewelled us in typical fashion, and Gisborne, 130 miles north—eastwards, was the next objective. To reach it entailed a journey by rail-car, a new method of locomotion to most of the Lions, and an agreeable one, for shorter journeys. The team had two rail—cars, very much like the diesel cars at home, to themselves, and went merrily along, stopping only where the driver thought it necessary or convenient. Often there were hundreds of schoolchildren drawn up at the wayside stations, and the rail—car then slowed down so that they could catch a glimpse of the players. At other times, too, stops were made to enable the members of the team to take pictures of any outstanding views, and Noel Murphy was soon christened ‘Cecil B. de Murphy’ for his activities in this direction. Snack meals were taken at stations en route, for dining—cars are not provided on New Zealand trains.
At Gisborne another warm-hearted welcome awaited the Lions. Here, according to the mayor, ‘the sun first rises on the British Commonwealth of Nations’, and a most friendly place the tourists found it, with a population of just over 20,000 in the centre of an important agricultural and sheep-raising district. In olden days it could only be reached by sea, being isolated by mountains all round, and a strong tradition of hospitality persists.
One of the first people to greet us was a 1950 Lion, Dr Billy McKay, the former Ireland wing-forward, who had liked New Zealand so much that he returned there to practise. He and his wife welcomed the Lions like lost relatives, and later gave a big party in their honour.
Poverty Bay is one of the main Maori districts of New Zealand, and there were fierce battles there in the Maori wars. The Poverty Bay Massacre, instigated by a Maori chief, has since become a legend. Nowadays, more happily, the Maoris confine their marauding activities to rugby, and there were several of them in the local team. Two locks, Tamati and Paea, were both sixteen— stoners, and with the famous former All Black forward, Richard (‘Tiny’) White to coach them, it was clear that the home pack, at least, would take a lot of mastering. White, one of the greatest forwards New Zealand has produced, was among those who met us at the station on arrival and even carried my bag for me. That, one felt, was a story to tell one’s grandchildren.
Another excitement was the impending arrival of Andy Mulligan, the Irish scrum-half, who had been summoned out as a replacement for Stan Coughtrie at short notice. For the moment, with Jeeps nursing an injured shoulder after the first match, and Coughtrie still having back trouble, it looked as though Malcolm Thomas, the odd job man of the side, might have to take over as scrum-half. On the day before the match, however, Mulligan turned up, after a hectic trip during which he had missed his aircraft connection at Sydney. He had been given only twenty-four hours at home to pack his bags and move off. ‘Mother was almost sewing on name-tabs at the airport,’ he said on arrival. At once he was plunged into the team for the next day’s match and, considering all things, made a very good job of it.
The New Zealand Rugby Union had also given the all clear to Mr Wilson to bring out a replacement for Brophy, if he wished. ‘If the Lions want to replace Brophy they are very welcome to do so,’ said Mr C. S. Hogg, chairman of the N.Z.R.U. Council, ‘and we have also told them that we would like Brophy and Coughtrie to carry on as our guests.’
So to the second match, on an extremely pleasant ground, used for the first time in 1955, on which a Lions team was appearing for the first time. There was to be no repetition of the runaway win over Hawke’s Bay. The home team, assisted by Tiny White’s knowledgeable coaching, proved a tough and durable lot, and were very quick about the field in their efforts to counter the Lions’ backs.
They held the tourists to 23—14, after being 17—3 down at half-time. At one time the Lions were leading by 23 points to 6, but in the last twenty minutes it was the home side which produced all the fireworks, and they reduced the leeway with two splendid tries by Reedy and J. L. Karaka, one of which Rutene converted. J. L. Karaka, and W. Atkins, the Combined team’s wing- forward and number eight, were very quick on to Mick English at fly-half, and his plight was made worse by the Lions’ continually knocking back the ball near the front of the line-out. This meant that Mulligan was under continuous fire, and when the ball did reach English, the fly-half was confronted with either Karaka or Atkins simultaneously. Waddell, in the centre, was also frequently bustled, and the soundest Lions’ back was Terry Davies, who kicked two penalty goals and a conversion, and generally gave one of his best displays. McLeod, who never slowed up for a moment, was the Lions’ outstanding forward, but generally speaking it was the home team, for their unexpectedly good effort, who won most of the honours. Reedy, on the wing, scored two copybook tries, and full-back K. Karaka kicked and tackled well.
The match had shown that the Lions still had a lot to learn about the methods and techniques of forward play as practised in New Zealand, but it was all valuable experience, and the lesson was to show dividends later. In the meantime there was a shock waiting for the members of the team when they returned to their hotel after the match. A sneak-thief had broken into their rooms during their absence at the ground and ransacked them. Syd Millar, the Irish prop, had fifteen pounds, a number of Canadian dollars and an overcoat stolen. It was the one blot on what had been a most enjoyable stay in Gisborne, and rather spoilt things as the team set off on the next leg of their journey, to Auckland.
From “LIONS DOWN UNDER” by Vivian Jenkins. Published 1960 Cassell & Company Ltd. Pp 93-97.