March 25 1940

2NZEF flex their rugby muscle.


Within six weeks of arriving in Egypt the First Echelon of the NZEF had organized and completed an inter-unit rugby competition, held a Possibles-Probables trial and selected a team to play the Combined British Services on Easter Monday.

 With a team that included three All Blacks (Tom Morrison, Jack Griffiths and Jim Wynyard) the New Zealanders were decisively the better side, winning 20 – 0.


The programme.


Prior to Easter, 1940. the First Echelon had played a hurricane inter-unit Rugby competition which began shortly after their arrival in Egypt on the 13th February, 1940. At the completion of this series arrangements were made for the 2NZEF team to play against the Combined British Services on the Easter Monday. A Possibles-Probables match was played on the Easter Saturday  to assist the New Zealand selectors in their final selection. This trial was a curtain raiser to a match in which most of our opponents for the Monday took part.

The 2NZEF side was announced on the Saturday night and a practice was held the next morning in preparation for the New Zealanders first big match in the Middle East. Easter Monday was typical of most late in the Winter days experienced in Cairo —perfect for the playing of Rugby. In fact, it was the type of day that most New Zealanders would he perfectly happy to have for a mid-Summer day back home.

The game was played on Zamalek Sporting Club ground in the presence of a khaki clad audience most of whom were from the 2NZEF. The referee for this match was Wing Commander G. Beamish, who is remembered as an outstanding forward in the British Isles Rugby team which toured New Zealand in 1930. The game itself was an enjoyable one in which to play and it was favourably commented upon as a spectacle.

The 2NZEF side was captained by Jack Griffiths and at that time there were many beside myself who were of the opinion that Jack had never played better Rugby than he did in this Egyptian season of 1940. With the passing of the years there is still general agreement about this. The 2NZEF ran out winners by 20-0 and the foundation for victory was laid by an excellent pack of forwards who were well led by Jim Coull in the tight while George Wales in a display marked by speed and energy was outstanding in the loose.

There is one incident associated with this game that I remember well. Jack Griffiths was leading the team from the back of the grandstand to the front and onto the ground itself to meet military dignitaries. About six of our big forwards had emerged and were following Jack, and Roy Knowles and I were roughly 8 and 9 in the order of march when General Freyberg’s staff car, which
had been stopped at the end of the grandstand  to allow the General to alight, took off at high speed. Obviously the driver wished to park the car in a hurry so that he would not miss any of the game. When the car was opposite Roy  Knowles its back door flew open and before Roy could take evasive action the door had given him a terrific smack on one of his legs. Jack Griffiths and those ahead of us were quite oblivious to this incident and they marched out to the centre of the ground. The remainder of the players and selector, Major J. T. Burrows, clustered round the injured Roy Knowles, whose leg was bleeding profusely. Roy’s reaction is well remembered by me to the suggestion that he should withdraw from the match. He insisted that he would play and he lasted out the whole game and in doing so he more than held his own.

Another incident which has remained in my memory was our full back, Cliff Rollinson, receiving a knock for the treatment of which he did not ask play to be stopped. He lasted out the game and subsequently that evening he was found to have several fractured ribs.

The season of 1940 was probably the shortest in duration of any in which I took part. Yet my memories of it, and I am sure those of my fellow players, still rank it as the most enjoyable in which we ever played. The high standard of the Rugby and the personal qualities of the participants made it so.


 “Egyptian Gazette, March 26th, 1940


 Morrison Drops Wonderful Goal

The New Zealand XV beat the Combined Services XV in the final game of the Red Cross Rugger Tournament, played on the Arsenal ground yesterday afternoon before an enormous crowd with considerable ease. Their line was not crossed and they scored two goals, one dropped goal and two tries for a twenty point victory. Most people had expected the New Zealanders to win, but only those who had followed their play could have foreseen so decisive a victory. The Services XV were outclassed,

The game started off in stirring fashion and was interesting for about the first three quarters. For the last 15 minutes the only question seemed to be how many points would the New Zealanders score. Although they got over the line three or four times they were recalled for various infringements in this period. The Services never gave up and they were relentless and dogged in defence.

The ground was filled to capacity, mainly by New Zealanders who turned up early and found accommodation all round the ground. The game was thus played before a keen and critical audience for most New Zealanders have both practical and theoretical knowledge of the game.

Wales scored twice in the first spell. Half time score was 6 nil. T. C. Morrison scored and converted his own try early in the second half. There was then a melee on the Services 25 line and Morrison picked up in the midst of a whole bunch of charging forwards and dropped one of the finest goals the reporter had ever seen. It was done so rapidly, so neatly and so perfectly, that there was a gasp of surprise as the ball soared over the bar followed by a storm of cheering. Then J. Griffiths scored a try which was converted by C. Rollinson. J. Wynyard twice. L Arnold and R Arnold crossed the Services line in the last 10 minutes but on each occasion the referee had noticed a prior infringement. McBeath hooked successfully and Wynyard, Coull and Anderson were to be found in the forefront of all rushes but it is hardly fair to the remainder of so fine a pack to select these for special mention.

Parsons fully justified his selection and was one of the outstanding players on the field. The Arnold brothers and Jack Griffiths were obviously class players while Morrison was the hero of the game. Knowles was most useful on defence and Rollinson did everything correctly although he was seldom under real pressure. The real merit of Cliff Rollinson’s game was revealed after the match when it was revealed by medical examination that he played most of the game handicapped by three fractured ribs. As replacements were not allowed, he stuck to his task manfully and without complaint.”

From “Rugby versus Rommel”, edited by P P Donoghue. Published 1961 for NZEF Rugby Reunion. Pp. 26-28.




The teams.