June 11 1966
Southland forwards too strong for 1966 Lions in tour opener.
After sevens wins (including two test victories) and a draw in Australia the Lions were brought back to earth when they were outplayed by the Southland forwards, suffering a 14 – 8 defeat. Led by Jack Hazlett, soon to make his All Black debut and play all four tests against the Lions, and with 35 year old Robin Archer outstanding at first five eight, the Southlanders thoroughly deserved their win.
Versus SOUTHLAND at Rugby Park, Invercargill on Saturday, June 11th, 1966.
British Isles lost by one goal and one penalty (8 pts) to one goal two penalties and one try (14 pts).
SOUTHLAND—B. J. Cullen; G. A. Townsend, D. Thompson, R. R. Welsh, P. E. Savage; W. R. Archer, C. D. Hay; R. R. Spencer, S. R. Hardiman, J. C. Lindsay, E. J. Hazlett (Capt.), G. H. Dermody, A. R. Frew, A. J. Soper and H. A. Miller.
BRITISH ISLES – S. Wilson; D. I. E. Bebb, D. K. Jones, C. W. McFadyean, A. J. Hinshelwood; D. Watkins, A. R. Lewis; C. H. Norris, F. A. L. Laidlaw, R. J. McLoughlin, M.. Campbell-Lamerton (capt.), W. D. Thomas, G. Prothero, W. J. McBride, N. A. A. Murphy.
Referee: C. F. Robson (Waikato).
Weather: Sunny after rain. Ground: Heavy. Crowd: 22,000.
The teams fielded to the accompaniment of the bagpipes, a fitting display of local ancestry which is predominantly Scottish, while the gallant eighteen Welsh supporters sang ‘Sospan Fach’ led by Idris Thomas, the happy Bridgend R. F. C. president and a splendid ambassador for Welsh rugby. The non-playing Lions gave their war-cry:
‘Give us an “L”; Give us an “I”; Give us an “0”; Give us an “N”; Give us an ‘S”; What have we got? … Lions! Lions! Lions!’ and this heralded the singing of the National Anthem and David Watkins kicking-off for the Lions. Soon they were in the lead when Southland were penalised at a line-out on their own ’25’ and Wilson kicked a good goal after five minutes play. We thought there would be further Lions scores, but Southland had other ideas and soon they were swarming like ‘black devils’ in the Lions ’25’. Twice they were nearly over and the Lions were forced to ‘hold on’, while the rucks were fierce and the game looked completely different from that watched in Australia and the British Isles. This was really hard physical rugby with all eight Southland forwards going in together regardless of possible injury to themselves or their opponents.
After sixteen minutes Southland drew level, deservedly so, when Cullen, a tall rangy full-back, kicked a thirty yard penalty after Lewis had been penalised for picking the ball out of the back of the scrum. Then Watkins was low with a drop at goal and as play became over-vigorous, I noted much obstruction at the line-out with Prothero and Murphy being held back continuously by their jerseys. Norris was then kicked in the head when trapped at the bottom of a maul and had to leave the field for attention.
The Lions forwards were often in difficulty and when they did deliver the ball it was slowly, and poor Lewis received little or no protection. Southland, with Hazlett their captain in magnificent form, were well together and they drove through the Lions ranks. When the ball eventually reached Watkins at outside-half he was well-covered and forced to dodge and jink before kicking to touch. Thus possession invariably meant the loss of ground for the Lions.
The Southland match warmed up and became fierce, especially at the mauls. Referee Robson spoke to both packs and then called the two captains aside to talk to them, but before these warnings could take effect it was half-time. The scores were level but Southland looked the more impressive side. Their forwards were well together while the Lions were too loose. The Lions frequently won the ball by jumping at the line-outs, but then lost it before distribution, and Southland often poured through to harass and destroy the attacking potential of the Lions halves.
At the rucks they were far superior, and the Lions appeared to stand off rather than contest them. The Lions also refused to run with the ball behind, although chances were limited by the small amount of good ball received. The second-half was hardly under way when Cullen put Southland into the lead they were not to lose. McBride picked up at No. 8 after Lewis had touched the ball, and was technically offside on his own ’25’ line. Cullen banged over the penalty goal. Four minutes later Southland scored a traditional N.Z. try that sent the crowd into ecstasies of delight.
Archer at first-five-eighth sent up a left-footed punt high to the Lions posts and it hung a little so that the brave Wilson, on catching the ball, could not get away from the ‘Black Devils’. He was rucked fiercely and Hay received ‘a good ball’ to send Archer away to the right. Cullen came up to make the extra man and hopped his way over the line like a frog, after being knocked down, for a good try.
He didn’t kick the goal but one felt that Southland were right on top. Yet it was the Lions who scored next. There was a set scrum thirty-five yards from the Southland line and Lewis gathered and raced away to the open-side, selling a huge ‘dummy’ as he went. It beat the defence and he went on to the line to fall over for a try as he was tackled by Soper. Wilson kicked the goal and only one point separated the sides. Could the Lions pull the match out of the fire as they did the First Test at Sydney?
It was not to be, for Southland kept hammering away in front and eventually got the decisive score, again as the result of an Archer ‘up and under’ that forced a five-yard scrum. They won a tight head strike and Hay went away to catch the back-row with their heads down, and eventually fell over the line as he was tackled, for a try near the posts that Cullen converted. There remained 15 minutes for play but the Lions could not break out of the stranglehold, try as they did. An exciting last rally led by McLoughlin, the best Lion forward, nearly brought a score and Wilson went near with a penalty attempt, but the match ended with Southland deserving winners by 14 points to eight.
The crowd invaded the field and then followed the celebrations; later came the inquests. It was a moment of truth for the Lions and called for an immediate readjustment in approach and play. The loose forward game had to be amended in the main and tighter, sterner stuff, substituted. The rucking had to be improved and better jumping at the line-out with fuller protection for the halves. There was much to be done, and Robins and Campbell-Lamerton put their plans into operation. It was a challenge that had to be met. It was the way of the game in New Zealand and the game was a ‘way of life’, so there was no turning back. All players had to harden their hearts on the field and get ‘stuck in’. There was no alternative for a very happy bunch of fellows but to play it the hard way.
New Zealand papers gave Southland the wonderful ‘show’ they deserved. Vivian Jenkins wrote in the Sunday Times… ‘After the Lord Mayor’s show of the unbeaten progress round Australia comes the dustcart of defeat in the opening match in New Zealand. . .The home pack gave the Lions a lesson in the art of forward play in the mud.’ Terry McLean said. . . ‘A good many chickens came home to roost for the British Lions when they were beaten in their opening match of the tour.’ In the Western Mail I wrote… ‘The Lions lost for three reasons and the lesson of defeat should ensure a better record of them. No player who has not played previously in New Zealand or watched representative matches in the country can fully appreciate the N.Z. approach. . . Secondly, the Lions tactics in the match were out of context and not altered as play progressed and this was partly due to lack of experience of N.Z. conditions…. Thirdly, few touring teams ever escape defeat in New Zealand during their initial matches and it has become a tradition to inflict defeat upon them as early as possible.’”
From “Lions at Bay” by J B G Thomas. Published 1966 by Pelham Books Ltd. Pp 100-103.