August 16 1952

Narrow win for Australia.

The 1952 Wallabies opened their tour of New Zealand with a not altogether convincing 21 – 14 win over North Auckland. Their second game was against an Auckland side with plenty of talent which had lifted the Ranfurly Shield off Waikato the week before. Playing in excellent conditions the teams treated the crowd to a thrilling game. Australia won, by a single point, but Auckland very nearly snatched victory right at the end.

John Tanner.

“Auckland had won the Ranfurly Shield from Waikato the week before meeting the Australians in the second match of the tour, so the visitors expected a tough encounter. The game, which the Wallabies won by a single point, was certainly a hard one, with the home side turning on one of its best performances in a patchy season.

Although Auckland’s tenure of the shield lasted only two weeks and the union ended the season with 12 wins from 20 games, there was plenty of individual talent in the team. Jack Kelly, Percy Erceg and John Tanner had played for New Zealand, and Keith Davis, Jack Skeen and ‘Snow’ White were future All Blacks. The captain, Ron Johnstone, toured with the Kiwis, and Alan McEvoy was a North Island representative. Bruce Mackenzie was a future New Zealand reserve, Peter Bevin played in the All Black trials the following year, and Dave Reeves had represented New Zealand Universities.

A crowd of 22,000 saw a thrilling game played in excellent conditions. Auckland had clearly the better of first spell and looked set to win convincingly, but a reversal of form in the second half saw the visitors snatch a well deserved victory.

Six minutes after the kick-off Stapleton tried to clear near his own line, but the ball veered back over the line, the fast-following Reeves pounced on it for the opening try of the match. Kelly converted.

A wild pass by Brady was snapped up by Stapleton, who set sail for the corner, but Kelly, coming across on the angle lowered the flying Australian with a brilliant tackle. Auckland then struck back with a touchline dash by Reeves who passed infield to Brady. The ball went on to Tanner who found Davis in support, and after a fine jinky run the halfback completed an exciting movement with a try wide out. Kelly missed the conversion. Stapleton then broke away from a set move before passing infield to his forwards. Windon took the ball and crashed over in a tackle. Barker’s conversion attempt was a poor effort.

An Australian passing movement broke down near the terrace touchline, and Murray Menzies scooped up the ball to score a try which Kelly converted. Auckland went further ahead when McEvoy was first to the ball following a centre kick by Erceg. Kelly failed to convert, but the home team now had a 13-point lead. Near halftime Stapleton sent a kick into midfield near the home line, and Cottrell got his hands on the ball to score under the posts. Barker converted and the home side led 16-8 at halftime.

The second spell was an anti-climax after the thrills of the first 40 minutes. For some reason, the Auckland backs, especially Tanner and Brady, chose to kick instead of passing, and there was little that was inspirational about the home rearguard in the second half.

Erceg was ruled offside soon after the resumption and Cottrell goaled from 35 yards. Australia continued to attack and, from a five-yard scrum, Barker shot through on the blindside between Reeves and Skeen to score a good try which Cottrell failed to convert from a wide angle.

With no-side looming up, the visitors won a ruck in front of the Auckland posts and the ball came to Solomon, who sent it between the posts with a neat dropkick to give his team the lead for the first time. Tanner broke through to send Reeves racing over, but the referee ruled that Tanner had knocked on when taking his pass. The general opinion was that the ball had come off Tanner’s chest before being brought under control by the Auckland second five-eighth, but the referee thought otherwise and the game ended with the score 17-16 in favour of the tourists.

Although handicapped by injuries which caused him to spend some time off the field, Davis showed fine form for Auckland, Reeves was an enterprising wing, and Harris shaped well against a difficult opponent in Tate. White, Mackenzie and McEvoy were in the thick of things for the whole 80 minutes, with Johnstone and Bevin also making valuable contributions in the tight work. Skeen, Andrew and Menzies followed up tirelessly, the last-named also showing his versatility by filling in for Davis when the halfback was off the field.

Barker, with his clever footwork and his eye for an opening, was the best of the visiting backs. Phipps also came through the game with a great deal of credit, while O’Neill was good at initiating play on the left wing. Solomon played a fine captain’s game and his experience was invaluable to his team. Cameron and Shehadie did splendid work in the lineouts, while Johnson and Windon stood out in the loose. The all-round display of the Australian forwards showed a marked improvement on their form in the North Auckland game.”

From “The Visitors” R H Chester & N A C McMillan, Moa Publications, pub. 1990 p.274-275.