July 24 1971 – Auckland vs Lions.
The 1971 Lions were into the latter stages of their very successful tour. They had lost the second test but won everything else. Could Auckland, in game 19, become the first provincial side to beat the tourists?
24 July, Eden Park, Auckland. Lions 19 vs Auckland 12
Superb day, bright, warm, calm—the finest of the tour. Ground perfect. Attendance 55,000.
Fortunately for the peace of mind of Rugby-lovers, anything the Auckland union might do to diminish the game, could be compensated by the Auckland team building it up. Thanks to the coaching of a great prop-forward of the 1950s, Hallard, or “Snow”, White, the Auckland pack became the first and only pack consistently to push back the Lions. The Lions forward, were reduced without McBride just as, back, they were reduced without Gibson. Nevertheless, the pack was superior in height and weight, it had everything going for it. In the contest, the Aucklanders, technically, were superb. They scrummed low, they scrummed hard, they were well disciplined. They soon discovered the flabby Roberts to be a point of weakness and by directing a powerful thrust at him, unbalanced the Lions’ scrum. Roberts later changed to loose-head, but whether he was scrummaging against Johnstone or Denholm, he was mastered. What was more, Whiting and Sherlock at the lineout played with distinction, and Cullimore, Posa and Edwards as a back row were fast, intelligent and constructive. Cullimore’s captaincy, in fact, was one of the events of the tour; and any command he liked to give was repeated, fortissimo, by McIntyre, a halfback of an aggressive, challenging attitude, especially towards Edwards, and a stoic who passed through a dim period of uncertainty, not knowing where he was, after he had taken a solid crack on the head, but who was bouncing around as well as ever at the finish. Outside, McIntyre, Murdoch kicked rather too much. Whether the threequarters would have had the pace and cleverness to beat the Lions was doubtful. But the willingness was there; Carrington two or three times brilliantly saw and went into the gap and it was only by herculean strength and exceptional swiftness that the Lions maintained control.
At half-time, the score was 11 to 3. With sixteen minutes to play, it was 14 to 12. Now the cries for Auckland turned into supplications. Six minutes from the end, Carrington and Bryan Williams were associated. The Lions’ defence was stretched tighter than a drum. Just a little bit of luck, 0 Lord, just a little bit. But somehow, someone got to them. It was the critical moment. From now, the Lions shrugged off their many frailties. They made sustained attacks of speed and resolution. Mervyn Davies was stopped by a miracle, Cullimore at another time made a last-gasp grasp, Duckham was stopped, John missed a drop. In the last seconds, Edwards ran with the ball, criss-crossed with Dawes and Dawes plunged over the goal-line. Not too long afterwards, he said, reflectively, “We were lucky to win.” It was a warm and just tribute.
In the eighth minute, Mervyn Davies was obstructed at the lineout and from 40 yards John goaled. It was all square two minutes later when Arneil foolishly late-charged Murdoch and from 30 yards Whatman placed the goal. John and Bryan Williams each made a mark with a mark—John took his catch five yards from goal with Auckland forwards steaming—and Gerald Davies at the end of a sizzling run centre-kicked. Whatman held on to the catch too zealously and at the penalty John placed a goal. McIntyre set his troops racing and Palmer deftly evaded Gerald Davies with a shrewd sidestep; but, like Hunter in the first test, he put his foot into touch. So Mervyn Davies tapped the ball down from a lineout, and Edwards took off at speed at the field end. When he was checked in the goal-mouth, he tossed a pass any old where and who should be there to score the try but Evans. “The first in his life,” the Lions chortled. They were as delighted as he was. Bryan Williams failed with a 44-yard penalty and cunningly backed up when Gerald Davies, having kicked through almost to the goal-line, was skilfully and illegally checked as he tried to race after the ball.
Duckham flew down one wing and the ball went all the way across to Gerald Davies on the other, but to no profit. Whatman failed with a 30-yard penalty and it was half-time. Within another six minutes, Sherlock got offside and John goaled yet again. Auckland had a go, Carrington shining; but when Duckham fielded his kick, a counter-attack which involved Williams, Evans and Brown among others moved back at tremendous speed and a pick-up by Edwards seemed certain to cap a great move when the whistle sounded for an infringement. After which, Auckland began to “go”. McLauchlan, invincibly optimistic about the offside law, presented three points to Bryan Williams, though it took a tremendous kick of nearly 60 yards to get the points. From a scrum, Whatman snapped over a drop goal and when McLauchlan was penalised yet again, Whatman goaled from 20 yards. The game was in a vortex of excitement. If your neighbour talked to you, he had no right to – he should have been concentrating on the game, willing Auckland to win. But when Carrington and Bryan Williams could not quite make it, the Lions, now a good deal frightened and very thoroughly aroused, charged and charged until Dawes got the try. Not a punch, not an illegal kick, just effort. Effort, effort, effort. It was quite a game.
Lions 19 points (tries Evans, Dawes; conversions John 2;
penalty goals John 3); Auckland 12 (penalty goals Whatman 2,
B. G. Williams; drop goal Whatman).
Auckland: R. G. Whatman; B. G. Williams, K. R. Carrington, D. L. Palmer; G. R. Weinberg, P. H. Murdoch; D. M. McIntyre; J. P. Posa; N. R. Cullimore (captain), P. J. Whiting, J. D. Sherlock, A. B. Edwards; B. R. Johnstone, R. A. Urlich, G. D. Denholm.
Lions: Williams; Duckham, Dawes, Spencer, T. G. R. Davies; John, Edwards, T. M. Davies; Slattery, Brown, Evans, Arneil;
McLauchlan, Pullin, Roberts.
Referee: W. L. Adlam (Wanganui).
From “Lions Rampant” by Terry McLean. Pub.A H & A W Reed 1971 p.226-228.