August 21 1937
Springboks’ classy win.
Not only had Canterbury beaten the 1921 South Africans, they had not lost to an international side since 1888 and their 1937 side was considered a strong one. There were high hopes among Cantabrians of another international scalp but with the Springboks turning on their best display of the tour those hopes were well and truly dashed.
“SPRINGBOKS, 23; CANTERBURY 8.
CANTERBURY BITE THE DUST. FIRST DEFEAT BY TOURING TEAM IN FIFTY YEARS.
Canterbury’s proud fifty-years’ unbeaten record against touring teams went up in smoke, when the Springboks avenged the 1921 defeat of the South Africans, winning by the handsome margin of 23 points to 8. There was hardly a weakness in the side, the team putting up their best display since reaching New Zealand.
Unfortunately the performance was a reminder of the old adage concerning the locking of the stable door after the horse had been stolen, and the Springboks must have gnashed their teeth with chagrin at realising how much difference “Tony” Harris might have made to them in the Test match, for he gave such a brilliant display at fly half-back as to prove the outstanding man on the field. Certainly he heaped coals of fire on the heads of the Selectors; a bundle of energy he dominated the match, giving the greatest five-eighth display of the tour.
He got his line going in a wonderful style, driving the Canterbury defence frantic. They did not know what to do to check him. Brooks and Hooper schemed traps, but Harris would not take them. At length they abandoned their policy of hopefully leaving gaps for him, and Harris immediately proceeded to break past them. Towards the end of the second half it was almost comical to see half the Canterbury team after him as he bobbed about and among them, without a hand being placed on him. He dropped back sagaciously to help the defence whenever necessary, and he was invariably on hand to clear the hail to the touch-lines on the few occasions that Turner was troubled. He also repeatedly tackled Hooper, cleverest of the Canterbury backs, whenever this player threatened to elude Hofmeyr.
The magnificent work of the Springbok pack made this brilliant display by Harris possible. They scrummaged stoutly throughout the game and in the second half particularly they dominated the line-out. Bastard was one of the heroes of the game, proving a great opportunist, bobbing up time and again almost as if from nowhere to add extra thrust to numerous attacking movements. He was in one of his most irresistible moods, yet twice he was badly hurt. Once he was unable to rise for a minute owing to an excruciating kick on the ankle. Courage brought him new energy and thereafter he was constantly making Jack-in-the-box appearances to the consternation of his opponents. Indeed, there was not a single passenger in the South African pack that day. “Fanie” Louw, Lotz and Martin made a great front row, while Lotz, greater than ever, hooked the hall so cleanly from the scrums that frequently it came out before de Villiers could run round to await it.
Little de Villiers was right on the top of his form. Though he was somewhat roughly handled at times, he handed out an excellent service and was as troublesome as a wasp to the opposition.
On the hard and fast turf Hofrneyr played his hest attacking game of the tour, showing rare confidence, and he linked splendidly with the rest of the line. On the other hand, Babrow, while sound, lacked much of his previous enterprise and he concentrated on getting the ball out to the wings.
Lawton had a most successful day on the left wing and this was his best display of the tour, lie ran far more aggressively than usual. If there were opponents in his way, he appeared not to notice them as he charged for the line like a bull at a gate and frequently two men had to take him at the one time in order to stop him. Bester, a last-minute inclusion owing to the illness of Williams, was far more at home on the right wing, though he seemed as full of pranks as a puppy dog. Once he leapt up five feet to take the ball over the heads of half-a-dozen Canterbury forwards. He was seldom: at a loss and his display would have been reckoned flawless, but for his letting Canterbury in for the final score.
Turner gave his most reassuring display at full-back. During the week Brand had taken him in hand and put his kicking technique right, and this was reflected in his much improved kicking. Both his touch-kicking and place-kicking were brilliant, and he fielded the ball flawlessly, while he was so full of confidence that he frequently opened up the game from his own “25” instead of trying to find the line.
The Springboks opened the scoring four minutes from the start, when Harris took a neat pass from de Villiers and started the three-quarters moving. From him to Babrow, then to Hofmeyr, the ball travelled; Lawton took the final pass to race round behind the posts. Turner converted (5—0). The Springbok forwards almost broke over the line themselves a little later. Just after the next scrum, Whillans, who was playing practically as a rover, obstructed de Villiers, and Turner goaled the penalty kick (8—0).
The South Africans opened up the game at every opportunity and their backing up on attack and splendid covering up in defence had the Canterbury players at a disadvantage repeatedly. Just on half-time Harris shot off the mark, beating his opposite and drawing the second five-eighth. He passed to Babrow, who drew the centre, so that when Hofmeyr got the ball he had Lawton next to him and only the fullback to beat. Hofmeyr passed to Lawton as he was tackled, the left winger running on to touch down ten yards from the corner flag. Turner’s kick passed just outside an upright (11—0).
Splendid backing-up by the forwards.was responsible for the Springboks increasing their lead soon after the interval. Bastard and van den Berg carried on after Bester had been tackled, and Martin then took a pass and sent the ball out to Strachan, who galloped round the posts. Turner converted (16—0).
Next score was a dropped goal. Harris fielded a kick from Pawson, and, ignoring the onrush of a trio of forwards, he steadied himself to send the ball soaring between the uprights from forty yards range—a great kick worthy of a “Gerry” Brand (20—0).
A stab-kick by Hooper was followed up by Chinnery, and he was making for the line, when Bester pushed him out to touch. A little later came a scrum near the Springbok line. The ball was hooked back over the goal-line so fast by Lotz that de Villiers could not get back to it in time, and, to everyone’s amazement, Whillans dived from the other side of the scrum on to the ball for an opportunist try. Nolan was just wide with his kick (20—3).
It did not take the Springboks long to resume the attack, and Harris cleverly beat three men in an elusive run down the middle of the field. He passed the ball out just as he was tackled, and it was sent out to Lawton. The winger side-stepped one opponent and then sprang head first over the top of McAuliffe to score as this player tried to tackle him. Turner missed the posts from a difficult angle (23—3).
Just before the end the Springboks conceded a goal. A scrum had been taken and though the South Africans hooked the ball, de Villiers found the Canterbury forwards almost on top of him. He passed desperately to Bester, who tried to kick the ball into touch, but it was charged down by a forward and Chinnery gathered it in to score near the corner. McAuliffe converted (23—8).
“The Auckland Star”: “Once again the bright star of the Springbok back line was T. A. Harris, mercurial fly-half. He was an elusive will o’ the wisp, who conjured and swerved his way through a bewildered Canterbury defence, to give a feast of the ball to his three-quarter line. He was by far the best back on the field. The. Springbok Selection Committee must have had it impressed on them again today just what a fatal blunder it was to have dropped Harris from the first Test team. There were times when Harris brilliantly collected passes aimed at his head, or at his feet, by de Villiers. Yet they did not throw him out of gear nor did they affect the passes he gave to Babrow, or Hofmeyr, who occasionally interchanged.”
“Evening Post, ”Wellington: “The early play served to show how the Springboks last week missed Harris. Taking his passes today from de Villiers, he clipped off the mark at great speed. Running diagonally and drawing Brooks and Hooper, he gave the wings the overlap. A typical move led to the first try, and it was undoubtedly a first-class effort. In defeating Canterbury the Springboks played their best Rugby to date. In all-round performance they were excellent. Their speed, their backing—up, their keenness on attack and their general coverage were first rate, and they were far too good for Canterbury. The score was a correct indication of the run of play. Whereas in previous matches the Springbok forwards with their heavy-weights, particularly Nel and ‘Boy’ Louw, had been rather lethargic, today it was the Canterbury pack who had the lethargic quality. In the first spell this was particularly noticeable when the Canterbury forwards, who were doing their share in the tight, were failing to combat the speed of the Springboks’ backs. The Canterbury forwards seemed to lack zest in almost all departments of their play. In the second spell this lethargy was replaced by rather more keenness, but this time there was a little too much winging. Where in the first spell the Canterbury forwards had been doing more in the tight play, in the second spell they rather deserted that and went out for the open winging game. In that they were not altogether successful, and the forwards throughout the game lacked energy.”
“Press,” Christchurch: “The Canterbury team can take some consolation from the knowledge that no other team which has opposed the visitors in New Zealand, with the exception of the All Blacks in the first Test, has been able to score so many points against the tourists. The spectators apparently did not find it any great consolation, and there was no disguising their disappointment at the home team’s showing. The efforts of the visitors were deserving of nothing but admiration, and if they received rather less recognition from the crowd than they deserved the explanation must be sought in the spectators’ disappointment at seeing a one-sided contest where at least a close fight was expected. For Canterbury is recognised as one of the strongest teams in the Dominion this season. and the Springboks’ decisive victory on Saturday, more than any of their other excellent performances, must convince every follower of the game that the visitors are, when favoured by conditions similar to those obtaining in their own country, one of the most brilliant International teams that have yet visited the Dominion. The Springboks, from any position, threw the ball about with the greatest daring, and yet with the utmost sureness, and there was no defence which might not at any moment be turned into attack. The swift changes in the direction of their thrusts caught the Canterbury defence on the wrong foot time after time, and brilliant backing-up enabled these attacks to be sustained even when a movement appeared to have been well stopped. It was the same brilliant backing.up, too, which enabled the visitors to make light of most of the Canterbury attacks, many of which were good enough to have made deep breaches in the defence of a less able International side than the South Africans.”
“Truth,” Wellington: “Possibly impressed by voluminous details in the local Press of Canterbury’s victorious sequence of wins against International teams since Godley was a boy, the South Africans fielded a pack of forwards which was pretty close to Test standard. Behind it, they paraded a line-up of the best colts in the side— fleet-footed jinky youngsters with the incentive of winning their spurs later as Test Men. Up till half-way through the second half, however, they might just as well have put in a side made up from the official party and Pressmen travelling with the team, judged by Canterbury’s futile efforts to make a game of it. The locals were only a shadow of some of the great Canterbury teams of the past. With half-a-dozen men who had figured in the All Black trials, and a forward division averaging l4st., it was expected that, even if beaten, Canterbury would give the ‘Boks’ a terrific battle and go down fighting. But their forwards were sadly lacking in fire and dash, and Canterbury, in place of the old, dashing tactics, which had won it many a thrilling victory in the past, was not Impressive in the loose type of spoiling game that Taranaki, for instance, played with such vim against the ‘Boks’ a few weeks ago.”
Arthur C. Swan, “Sporting Publications,” Wellington: “A grand entertainment, with the Springboks occupying the stage. The play of the visitors all through was full of vim and sparkle, delightful to watch by its very action. But was their Rugby sound? Of course having so much of the ball, and so much room to work in, allowed the visitors to do almost everything they liked: in one movement commencing from a scrum the ball passed through at least twenty pairs of hands—twice across the field and back again—but when it ultimately broke down only about seven yards of ground was gained. Highly spectacular no doubt, but still not very constructive Rugby. Anyway they won and won easily, so could afford to use the match as a practice one. In common with other sides so far met Canterbury failed when it came to tackling; even All Black Hooper’s defence was found wanting. Nolan was nowhere like himself—his kicking was lamentable. The other backs were outclassed, but Chinnery tried hard and Brooks never let up. Whillans was the best forward by reason of his consistent following-up and hi keenness to be where the ball was. His keenness overrides his sense of position and he became off-side too much however. Foley in the line-out and Milliken and Hattersley in the rucks were next best, but as a whole the Red and Black pack failed to function at all well.””
From “South Africa’s Greatest Springboks” by John E Sacks. Pub. Sporting Publications 1938. P.129-134.