LIONS v TARANAKI .
The 1959 Lions travelled to New Plymouth to meet Ranfurly Shield holders Taranaki knowing they were in for a real battle. But they had done their homework on their hosts and this, with some star quality, saw them through.
“Now, though, it was time to head for New Plymouth, to take on the holders of the Ranfurly Shield, Taranaki. This was another important match for the Lions, with much prestige involved. The holders of the Ranfurly Shield at any given time rule the roost in New Zealand rugby, and also find it a financial gold mine. Enthusiasm mounts, big crowds attend the matches, and the money rolls in accordingly. One should explain that the Shield competition is not conducted on knock-out lines, like our own F.A. Cup. The holders, once they have won the trophy, ‘the log of wood’, as it is called—are subjected to a series of ‘challenges’ from other Unions, and as long as they go on winning remain champions. Taranaki, at the time of the Lions’ visit, had resisted ten challenges in succession, and rugby fever in the province was at its height. The tension began to make itself felt even on the rail-car journey from Wanganui to New Plymouth. At Hawera, a township of fewer than 6,000 people, where the team made a twenty minutes halt, some two thousand schoolchildren had collected to greet them. Speeches were made from an improvised platform at the station approach, songs were sung, and the children responded in kind.
At New Plymouth there were similar scenes, reinforced by the band of the New Plymouth Boys’ High School. Here, too, we had a Maori ‘challenge’ by a fierce-looking warrior, who advanced on Mr Wilson with a series of threatening gestures, backed up by a haka, or war-cry, from eight Maori ‘braves’. Mr Wilson averted disaster by exchanging greetings, or rubbing noses, with an elderly Maori woman of most dignified appearance, and all was saved. At the hotel another thousand people were waiting to see the team, and so it went on.
No mention of Taranaki would be complete without reference to Ferdinand, the emblematic bull that had been adopted as the province’s mascot in all rugby affairs. It figured everywhere, in window displays in half the shops of the town, in advertising ‘jingles’ on the commercial radio, and, most of all, in the mammoth display which the townsfolk put on as a carnival procession on the morning of the match. This contained everything—five bands, marching teams, trick-cyclists, jugglers, clowns, gymnasts, and over thirty floats depicting anything from Ferdinand and desiccated Lions’ bones to the Maori wars and Don Clarke’s boot that had won the first Test.
All this was a stirring prelude, and the excitement when the two teams gathered at Rugby Park, one of the best grounds in New Zealand and a natural amphitheatre, can well be imagined. There were 35,000 spectators, and with the sun shining, a pantomime Ferdinand —fore and aft—doing his tricks in the middle, and snow-capped Mt. Egmont (8,260 ft) shimmering in the distance, the stage was set for a thrilling struggle.
Nor was the crowd disappointed, though it was not a spectacular match. Certainly it was hard, as hard as anything could be, for the Taranaki XV were a tough lot, moulded in many a fierce encounter. They played the game without frills, concentrating on driving forward play, plus close lying-up by the backs, continual high kicks and follows, and merciless tackling and rucking; in other words, the accepted New Zealand pattern for match-winning rugby. The only thing wrong with it on this occasion was that it did not work. The Lions, knowing what to expect, had laid their own plans along the same lines, and for a large part of the game the touch-line was never far from their minds. Waddell, this time at fly-half, drove the Taranaki men back time and again with lengthy kicks, and the Lions’ forwards, with Marques outstanding in the line-out, took the home team on at their own game in front. Thus, for a long time, it was stalemate, and a quarter of an hour after half-time the only score that had come each side’s way was a penalty goal.
Bayly, who gave a first-rate display at full-back for Taranaki, kicked one from the 25, wide out, in the second minute of the game. Malcolm Thomas replied in kind for the Lions in the twenty-eighth minute, after previously failing with three attempts, none of them easy. Scotland went close with a tremendous effort from half-way, on the edge of touch, just after half-time, but with twenty-five minutes remaining for play the score was still 3 all, and anything could have happened. It was then that Scotland, as so often on the tour, produced the vital blows that turned the course of the game. First Bayly, in one of his few falls from grace, failed to find touch with an attempted clearance, and Scotland, fielding the ball some forty yards out, dropped a gem of a goal to give the Lions a 6—3 lead. Not content with this, some minutes later he again attempted a penalty from much the same spot as he had failed from before—fifty yards out and near touch—and this time succeeded, with a colossal kick of the instep variety which so intrigued New Zealanders.
That made it 9—3 and the Lions, from that point on, had turned the corner. Malcolm Thomas kicked another penalty-goal before the end, and finally, just when Taranaki looked like being the first side not to have their line crossed by the tourists, Malcolm Price raced over for an excellent unconverted try. Here again it was Scotland who played the vital part. He came up into an orthodox right-to-left threequarter movement, took an ‘impossible’ pass, miraculously, at his ankles, and in the act of falling, handed on to Price, who sailed through a gap to score. Thomas failed with the kick, but it mattered not.
The final whistle left the crowd subdued and pensive, in contrast to their earlier exuberance, and in a way one could sympathize with them. Taranaki were not twelve points the worse side, and but for those two vital thrusts by Scotland, which had so changed the picture, they would have run the tourists very close. They were very well served in the scrum, where O’Neill and J. R. Carroll were enterprising flankers, and Mackie, C. R. Carroll, Flavell and Macdonald worked like Trojans in the tight. Their captain, Peter Burke, too, did a great job in the line-out, where he had to operate almost alone against the combined efforts of Marques, Evans and Williams. Burke, incidentally, was an opponent the Lions much admired—a good sportsman off the field as well as a good player on it.
Behind the scrum Taranaki had three men who were chosen for New Zealand in the Test series—Urbahn, at scrum-half, McCullough, at second five-eighth, and Ross Brown, in the centre. None of them did much on this occasion, owing to the methods employed by their team, but Urbahn, an extremely capable performer, did what his team-plan required. This meant supporting his forwards and kicking over their heads to touch whenever opportunity offered. Naturally Brown and McCullough, outside him, did not see much of the ball. Oddly, Urbahn was replaced in the New Zealand team for the second Test by his own reserve for Taranaki, Briscoe; and McCullough, second five-eighth at New Plymouth, was brought in at first five-eighth to partner him, in place of Ross Brown, also a Taranaki player. Thus the Taranaki and New Zealand selectors obviously did not exactly see eye to eye.
The Lions, naturally, were pleased at this excellent win, which sent their stock soaring. The forwards had given a first-rate account of themselves and Alan Ashcroft at last was beginning to show the kind of form we had known in England. Rhys Williams and Roddy Evans, once again, had taken the brunt in the tight and the mauls, but every man did his part, not least David Marques, in spite of much rough handling when he was going up for the ball in the line-out. One need hardly add that Dickie Jeeps was also a key figure in the team’s win. This was the kind of match that suited him, hard and tough, with no quarter given, and he was in his element. Waddell’s kicking, too, was a great help to his forwards.
The crowd, 35,000, and the gate takings, £9,000, were both records for Rugby Park, but may not remain so for long. So great is the scope for development at this natural amphitheatre and so infectious the enthusiasm in the province that one of these days attendances of 50,000 and more can be expected.
SATURDAY, 8th AUGUST
Taranaki (3) 3, British Isles (3) 15
Taranaki; J.L. Bayly; E. J. Keith, R. H. Brown, J. F. McCullough, T. P. O’Sullivan; W. J. Cameron, R. J. Urbahn; I. H. Macdonald, R. J. Boon, I. C. A. Flavell, A. J. Mackie, C. R. Carroll, B. J. O’Neill, P. S. Burke (Capt.), J. R. Carroll.
Lions: K. J. F. Scotland; P. B. Jackson, M. C. Thomas, M. J. Price, J. R. C. Young; G. H. Waddell, R. E. G. Jeeps; H. F. McLeod, A. R. Dawson (Capt.), S. Millar,
W. R. Evans, R. H. Williams, A. Ashcroft, R. W. D. Marques, H. J. Morgan.
Taranaki: Bayly (penalty-goal).
Lions: Thomas (two penalty-goals), Scotland (one dropped goal, one penalty goal), Price (try).
Referee: Mr R. L. Hines
From “Lions Down Under” by Vivian Jenkins. Pub. 1960 by Cassell & Co. Ltd p.171-176.