August 25 1956
ANTI CLIMAX AT EDEN PARK IN 1956
The 1956 match between New Zealand Maori and South Africa was keenly anticipated. It was their first meeting since 1921, the Maori side had some star players and had won all five of their build up games. Also, the Springboks had been beaten 22 – 15 by New Zealand Universities and so were seen as vulnerable. But the result, a 37 – 0 loss, was a huge disappointment, to all New Zealand but to Maori especially. There have been various accounts of the match circumstances since e g:
“1956 SOUTH AFRICAN TOUR: MAORI ROLE IN A HISTORIC VICTORY
There was only one team to beat in 1956: the touring South Africans. Three Maori players were instrumental in the All Blacks first test series victory over the Springboks — Tiny Hill, Bill Gray and Pat Walsh.
The New Zealand Maori build-up to the game was good and optimism ran high in the camp after they thumped a Counties team. Prior to that game, New Zealand Maori had beaten five teams including three joint provincial sides, and the fervour ran so high before kick-off that New Zealand Railways organised three ‘Maori Special’ trains from Wellington to Auckland. People came from what must have seemed all ends of the earth to Eden Park, to see what many described as the ‘fifth test’ of the South African series, with a total of 60,000 fans cramming the ground. The team was led by Canterbury’s Tiny Hill. Walsh remembers the bizarre team talk the side received before running onto the field:
The Minister of Maori Affairs, Ernest Corbett, came into the dressing room. The Minister said, ‘Now listen. We don’t want any animosity between the two countries. We want to keep it quiet boys, take it easy’. Why did he come in and do the team talk? We didn’t want him. (Interview)
Initial enthusiasm turned to despair and most of the crowd left the game before the final whistle had blown, as the New Zealand Maori performance was a disaster, with the final score 37—0. Pat Walsh played that day and he suggests a change in tactics was the reason why New Zealand Maori received such a beating:
New Zealand Maori went on an internal tour to practice quick throw-ins to the lineout and to run with the ball, because we knew against the Boks we weren’t going to get any ball. Tiny Hill didn’t come on that tour. Unfortunately when he came into the team, he brought in the old South Island ‘keep it tight’ game plan. There were no quick throw-ins or anything like that. (Interview)
The South African forwards totally dominated New Zealand Maori that day. Some said the Boks loss to a New Zealand University team was their motivation for the game against New Zealand Maori. First five-eighths for South Africa, ‘Pewee’ Howe, played a great game against New Zealand Maori, running through some feeble defence, which was criticised as being too high and of the one-armed variety. There was however a bright side to the defeat. Pat Walsh recalls:
I would say that the Maori team helped the All Blacks win the fourth test. Howe was the first five eighth. Our number eight kept going out wide and Pewee Howe cut in and he got away with murder. We didn’t repeat that mistake in the fourth test. (Interview)”
From “Beneath the Maori Moon” by Malcolm Mulholland. Pub. 2009 by Huia Publishers. P.122-124.
There has long been conjecture about the reason for the disappointing Maori performance, and reports of comments by the Maori players which are at variance with each other. As an example, the writer of this article recalls a television interview, circa 2010, in which Tiny Hill, NZ Maori captain in that 1956 match, stated he did not recall Minister Corbett talking to the team and was confident he would have done so because, as a boy in Taranaki, he had known “Ernie Corbett” and attended the same school as his children.