May 10 1950
Lions open tour with win in Nelson.
The 1950 Lions’ tour was eagerly awaited. It was the first visit by a British team for 20 years, the 1934-46 “Kiwis” tour of Britain had been good for rugby relations, and it offered New Zealand rugby a chance to redeem itself after the All Blacks had lost all six tests played in 1949.
The Lions won this opening match comfortably, looking a team of potential rather than the finished product.
“MATCH ONE: NELSON-MARLBOROUGH-GOLDEN BY-MOTUEKA COMBINED
Trafalgar Park, Nelson, Wednesday 10 May 1950.
British Isles 24 points: Preece and Thomas tries. Thomas, six penalty goals.
Combined 3 points: Kingi, try.
Nelson rugby officials arrived at the ground at 11.00am, hopeful that none of their carefully laid plans for the opening match of the tour would go astray. The first signs were not good, for they were faced with the unscheduled task of clearing the ground of a large number of enthusiasts who had gained entry to the playing arena. That job completed, the gates were officially opened at 11.30am, by which time some 200 people had gathered. The early arrivers were those who had been unable to purchase tickets for the seating areas. Undaunted, they brought their own in the form of apple boxes and similar constructions. Two inventive people were reported to have brought kitchen steps and, having erected them inside the ground, perched on top for the duration of the afternoon.
The following description of the match is adapted from the pages of the Nelson Evening Mail –
“Trafalgar Park was in perfect order this afternoon when the British Isles team opened its tour. Although there has been little rain in Nelson for three months, the ground has been kept watered and it was ideal for fast, open rugby. The sun shone through broken high cloud and there was the lightest of sea breezes.
The playing area was ringed by the largest crowd in Nelson rugby history, 4000 being accommodated on temporary seating. Several thousand more spectators stood behind the railing that edges the cycle track, and every area of raised ground was crowded.
The interest being taken in the match throughout the Dominion was reflected in the Press box, which contained reporters from seven metropolitan Dailies, as well as representatives of overseas publications.
Members of the British Isles team were singing lustily when they arrived at the park by coach at about 2.40 o clock. Small gilt Lion emblems which they have worn during their stay in Nelson were on the lapels of some of the people on the bus. The team was met at the gates by a Pipe band, and led to the dressing room.
There was a roar from the crowd as the British players took the field, a colourful picture in their bright uniform – scarlet jerseys, with the badges of the four Home Unions, white shorts and blue stockings with green tassles.
The tourists kicked off from the northern end. The British backs made two passing runs and play was in Combined’s half when Eden sent a high kick in-field. A Combined forward was off side and Thomas kicked a penalty goal after five minutes play, from 35 yards out. British Isles 3, Combined 0.
Play settled just inside British territory until Rimmer took a fair catch and put his team on attack with a well judged kick. Combined worked back to half way and from a lineout the ball reached Taylor, who kicked to touch on Britain’s 25. A pass by Eden went astray, but Taylor gathered it in and kicked across the field. Thomas secured, but was dropped by Kingi. Kingi ran across field to link up with Kearney but his pass was not a good one and it was snapped up by Cleaver.
A strong British attack developed in which the ball passed through half a dozen hands in Combined’s 25, before a penalty gave relief to the defenders. After 14 minutes Cradock was off side round a scrum and Thomas kicked a second penalty goal. 6-0.
Mullen kicked to Combined’s 25 and the ball was taken by Sharland. The touch judge did not raise his flag but the referee, who was standing on the line, had no hesitation in declaring the ball out. A section of the crowd booed the decision. Another Combined man was off side, in the same position as the previous infringement and Thomas kicked another penalty goal, post high. 9-0.
Lane injured an ankle and received attention on the side line. Roberts went to the wing and Britain continued the game with fourteen men. Gargiulo tried to dribble away from a lineout, but Rimmer picked the ball from his toes and sent his backs away. The ball reached Thomas, but Kingi grounded the winger and the ball went loose for a Combined player to force.
With play 10 yards inside his team’s half, Budge was penalised for off side play. Smith had a kick at goal from the side line, but the ball fell well short. From a lineout, Rimmer sent a long pass to Preece who sent his outside men away. Leggat and Smith stopped the movement. Britain won six of the first nine scrums. From the last of these Rimmer made a very smart run on his own on the open side, but his pass to McCarthy was knocked on. From the serum, right under the posts, Combined were penalised and again Thomas piloted the ball over the bar. British Isles 12, Combined 0.
Leggat and Taylor gave the crowd a thrill when they combined in a very bright run. Leggat went on the inside of Taylor and the Maori player went inside again to take a reverse pass, but when he sent the ball into his forwards it went loose and Cleaver cleared. Roberts and McCarthy then seemed to be through for a try but again McCarthy did not gather the ball and there was a scrum. Lane was back on the field by this time and Roberts was back in the forwards.
Thomas made a strong run on Britain’s left wing, but was caught by Taylor. McCarthy carried on, but was recalled for a scrum. Macdonald was stopped in full cry by Leggat just a few yards from the Combined team s goal line, but then two penalties returned play almost to half way. Combined’s breathing space was a short one and play returned to the line, with Nelson and Lane making a strong thrust. Eden passed back over the goal line to Sharland from a scrum, but the fullback’s kick went off the side of his boot. Cleaver took the ball and ran across to link up with Matthews, who was stopped short of the line.
There was a spell of mid field play, and then Hammond was penalised in a scrum and Clifford took a long kick at goal from five yards inside half way. The kick was short and off line and the first spell ended with the score still 12-0.
Combined attacked at the start of the second spell and Taylor had an unsuccessful penalty kick at goal. Kearney cross kicked from a scrum, but Lane took it and kicked to touch near Combined’s 25. Stephens won the ball from two lineouts, but no progress was made. A third lineout produced a penalty for Britain and Thomas skimmed the ball over the bar from the 25 line and 10 yards in from touch. 15-0.
Combined hooked the ball through the side of a scrum near half way, but Rimmer stole the ball off Eden and sent to Preece. He kicked deep and Sharland knocked on. From a ruck 10 yards from the line on Britain’s left wing, Budge sent out to Thomas who linked up with Reece and Macdonald, who was hauled down on the line. Leggat forced but there was an infringement and Thomas, yet again, kicked a penalty goal. That made the score British Isles 18, Combined 0.
The first try came when Britain won a lineout and Rimmer grubber-kicked through. The ball bounced awkwardly and Sharland could not gather it in as he ran back. Preece raced through and grasped the ball to score in a handy position. Thomas broke his sequence of successes by putting the ball outside the posts. 21-0.
All looked very tired about twenty minutes from the end. Lammas sprained his ankle and left the field with 16 minutes still to play. Kearney took a kick three yards in from touch on the 25, but was unsuccessful. The penalty was awarded after an incident in which Stephens was off side.
The first points for the Combined team were made by Kingi who, fed by Leggat, scored a try when only three minutes remained. The kick missed. And then, after a very exciting movement in the last moments of the game, Thomas was able to score a try, running almost the length of the field. The game ended with the score, British Isles 24, Combined 3.”
BRITISH ISLES: Cleaver, Lane, Matthews, Macdonald, Thomas, Preece, Rinimer, Stephens, McCarthy, Hayward, Nelson, Roberts, Budge, Mullen (c), Clifford.
COMBINED: K R Sharland (Nelson), J A Smith (Marlborough), I B Leggat (Nelson), D Kingi (Marlborough), W H Taylor (c) (Golden Bay-Motueka), M B Kearney (Marlborough), E P Eden (Nelson), R C Gargiulo (Nelson), S A Cradock (Golden Bay-Motueka), S W Woolley (Marlborough), R A Jensen (Marlborough), K T Lammas (Marlborough), E C D Baas (Golden Bay-Motueka), I A Hammond (Marlborough), O Ward-Holmes (Nelson).
The referee was Mr E W T Tindill, of Wellington.
Playing at centre three-quarter for the Combined side that day was a twenty year old, I B Leggat, of Nelson, who later went on to achieve New Zealand selection at cricket, on tour to South Africa in 1953-54. Currently with the Department of Survey and Land Information at Hamilton, and having retained his interest in the summer game in recent years as a Northern Districts selector, Ian Leggat remembers that day in 1950 –
“The Combined team to play that first match of the tour was chosen after a series of three trials. Although I played reasonably well in each, at my accustomed position of first five-eighths, the team announced after the final trial saw M B Kearney of Marlborough in that position and I was named as the reserve back. Then, a day or two before the game, Frank Hobson had to withdraw because of injury and I came into the team at centre – a new experience for me, having never played there before. It was very much a United Nations side, where a large number of the other players were virtually unknown to me and were neither friends nor team mates, then or after.
The job of marking Jack Matthews was one which gave a young man some cause for thought before the game, and I seemed to spend most of the match either being tackled by, or attempting to tackle him. Early on though, our backs detected that the Lions were displaying a tendency to run across the field and even though Matthews was every bit as hard as the reputation which had preceded him to New Zealand, Bill Taylor and I generally managed to keep him and Macdonald, the other centre, in check.
Near the end of the game came one of our few attacking opportunities. It started from a clearing kick by our fullback, Sharland, which found the British backs out of position. I chased hard after the ball, gathered it in and made some ground before sending it out to Duncan Kingi on the wing, and he scored in the corner.
‘That great sporting occasion is much less a vivid memory after 38 years, but I do recall one incident which appealed to my warped sense of humour and reminded me that we were indeed playing the British Isles. After picking myself up from the perpendicular position of yet another tackle by Matthews, I noticed that a very long sequence of play had been brought to a halt by the referee. In my vision was one of the British backs – I think it was Macdonald – there he was, cool as a cucumber, taking an immaculately ironed hankerchief from the pocket of his immaculately ironed and tailored white shorts (with buttoned waistband and two side pockets, they were hardly rugby togs as we knew them) and daintily blew his nose. That operation completed, the handkerchief was neatly folded and returned to the pocket!
“Because it was the first game of the tour, some of the passing and handling of the tourists did not quite reach the standard many of the spectators were expecting to see. But they came here with the promise of playing the open, running game and whether winning or losing, that is how they did play.”
From “1950 – The Year of the Lions” produced and published by D J Williams 1988. Pp 36-40.