Chris Greyvenstein refers in his book (Springbok Saga) to the period 1961 to 1969 as the turbulent years. A accurate description because this decade in South African rugby was indeed turbulent in more than one way.
According to Terry McLean the 1965 team was the worst Springbok team ever to visit New Zealand. Weak indeed as a team, judged by contests won and lost, but if we look at the individuals in the team (see photo opposite and a list of players), the team consisted of really talented players, including some of the best known and biggest Springbok legends.
The 1965 team
There was a good blend between experience and youth. Players such as Lionel Wilson have already played 21 tests, at that stage and there was Doug Hopwood (19 tests), John Gainsford (24 tests), Lofty Nel (4 tests), Keith Oxlee (17 tests) and Abie Malan (14 tests). Most of them played in the 1960 series against the All Blacks in SA. Other players like Mannetjies Roux, Tommy Bedford and Frik du Preez either played in the 60/61 end year tour to the UK or against Australia in 1961 and/or against the 1962 British Lions.
Young players like Syd Nomis, Jan Ellis, Dawie de Villiers, Tiny Naude and one of the better fly halfs produced by South African rugby namely Jannie Barnard also entered the test arena in 1965, some like Dawie de Villiers and Jannie Barnard already had a few tests under the belt. There were also several former Springbok captains in the team; Nelie Smith (Smith was Springbok captain in 1964 against a touring Welsh team) and Abie Malan captained the Springboks four times in test matches. Clearly not a totally inexperienced team and it was not bad players. It is therefore hard to not wonder what went wrong on the 1965 tour.
List of players and positions in which they were selected for the tour
Turbulence can also be described as turmoil and it was certainly a feature of SA rugby during the decade 1960 to 1970. There was turmoil in many ways, including such aspects as government interference with team selection, broederbond inspired appointments of team managers and captains, too many “chiefs” and too few “Indians” on and off the field as well as ongoing fights between Danie Craven and the national party. The captaincy in the years 1961 to 1964 shifted on several occasions between players like Avril Malan, Abie Malan and Nelie Smit.
These previous “captains” and the experienced Doug Hopwood were, however, overlooked for the 1965 tour and captaincy was awarded to a young smooth mouth theology student Dawie de Villiers, who simply did not have the stature, respect, and leadership experience at that stage to maintain and control outspoken senior players like former captain Abie Malan.
Discipline, dedication and focus became a increasingly larger problem as the tour proceeded with not only some prima donnas like John Gainsford and Jannie Engelbrecht in the touring group but also individualists like Mannetjies Roux who simply followed their their own heads, on and off the field, at critical stages and moments during the tour.
Doug Hopwood (1960-1965) experienced Springbok no 8 who were seen by some as a possible captain for the 1965 team. Hopwood played his entire career (22 tests) with a chronic back injury. His back injury prevented him form playing for large portions of the 65 tour.
On top of all this Hennie Muller-which actually was supposed to be the coach- had no status with his appointment and title of assistant manager, Muller, an introvert and a man who led with deeds and not with words, was totally swamped by the multitude strong and outspoken personalities in the team. See Hennie Muller’s body language on the team photo, on one of the the other team photos I have Muller actually leans away from and Dawie de Villiers; it is well known that a break developed between De Villiers and Muller during the tour (more on this later).
Terry McLean begins his book (The Bok busters) with the following comments:
The team of 30 players (who left on the 1965 tour) were inheritors of the tradition of universal supremacy established by many great Springbok teams since the first overseas tour of the United Kingdom in 1906 and several of the foremost among them had been members of the tour of the British Isles and France in 1960-61 which reaffirmed the place of their country at the head of the competitive rugby nations of the world.
It was, therefore, in a mood much more of decision than of hope that the team set out from Johannesburg for an arduous program of 30 matches involving at least 25.000 miles of travel. Ergo, they were going to prove worthy of their predecessors and in the tradition of South African rugby.
… on September 18, a few hours after the fourth international with the All Blacks of New Zealand. Much wine was spilled and intermittently, there was song and laughter. But it was the jollification of bewilderment and despair rather than the common expression of joy common to a happy band of footballing brothers who have completed a long and difficult assignment.
In a program of 30 matches, they had lost eight. Worse in six internationals, two against the Wallabies of Australia and four against the All Blacks of New Zealand, they had lost five.
So what went wrong? Here are some aspects which I believe contributed to SA’s poorest display on a tour to New Zealand:
Team selection issues
Thirteen new Springboks were selected for the tour; 17 players still playing in 1963 (in a series against Australia, in SA) and in 1964 (against Wales and France) and who was part of a short tour in April 1965 to Ireland and Scotland lost their places in the team.
Players who were permanently and temporary replaced:
Permanently lost their places and then never again Springbok
Province, position and tests played
Temporarily lost their place but later re-elected
Position and number of caps in 1965
Dave Stewart (1960-65)
Stompie v / d Merwe (1960-64)
Fanie Kuhn (1960-65)
Avril Malan (1960-65)
Snowy Suter (1965)
Dick Putter (1963)
GD Cilliers (1963)
Poens Prinsloo (1963)
RA Hill (1960-63)
Norman Riley (1963)
Wang Wyness (1962-63)
WP (12) – 11 tests
NTVL (5) – 5 tests
TVL (1) – 19 tests
TVL (5) – 10 tests
Natal (7) – 2 tests
WTVL (3) – 3 Tests
OFS (14) – 3 Tests
NTVL (8) – 1st test
Rhod (2) – 7 tests
OP (10) – 1 test
WP (12) – 5 tests
Dirk de Vos
WP (10) – 1 test
NTVL (1) – 4 tests
OP (4) – 4 tests
NTVL (11) – 4 tests
WP (9) – 1st test
(NTVL (9) – 10 tests
Turbulent indeed judged by the number of players who came and went during the period 1963 to 1965.
New or first time Springboks selected for the 1965 tour: CJ Mulder (OTVL-fullback), Kerneels Cronje (OTVL – wing); G Brynard (WP – wing), Syd Nomis (TVL – center); Eben Olivier (WP – center); LJ Slabber (OFS – no 8) Jan Ellis (SWA – flank) PH Botha (TVL – lock); A Janson (WP – lock); CP Goossen (OFS – lock); WH Parker (OTVL – prop), JP van Zyl (OVS – prop), Andy McDonald (Rhod – prop).
Six new selections in the tight five (locks and props) while proven front rowers such as Fanie Kuhn, Mof Myburg and Dick Putter as well as experienced locks like Stompie v/d Merwe, Avril Malan and Gawie Carelse were left at home. In major test matches, it is your experienced senior players in the tight five who has to stand up and do the job if you want win. Three props, Parker, van Zyl and Andy McDonald and one lock played in their debut tests on this tour. Jan Ellis was another debutant in the tests while a player like Frik du Preez were tossed around between flank and lock.
Not hard to see how team selection had a negative impact on performance during this tour.
Appointment of the team manager
Kobus Louw was appointed as manager under a cloud of criticism. As manager of the 1959 junior Springbok team Louw applied much control and disciplinary measures and were heavily critisized afterwards by players and the media. He clearly compensated for the critism by going to the other end of the fulcrum abdicating decision making to the tour committee.
Louw was a very popular man among the New Zealanders. McLean writes as follows about Kobus Louw:
It would be fair to say no manager of a touring team in New Zealand has made a more favorable impression on the public. As an executive, his image was not quite so bright.
He disliked to exercise too much direct responsibility and on more important issues greatly desired to submit matters to his Soviet, the Tour Committee.
Quite plainly, he did not like to crack the whip. Perhaps the tour would have been more successful if he had.
Marginalization of senior players and the designation of a young inexperienced Dawie de Villiers as captain
The tour was doomed to failure the moment the selectors appointed the captain and the vice captain. Involuntary one wonders who was the selectors and what went on in their heads when they decided to appoint Dawie de Villiers as captain and Nellie Smith (also a scrumhalf) as Vice Captain above former captains like Abie Malan and Avril Malan not to mention the experienced loose forward Doug Hopwood – who was written up by some journalists as a potential captain.
De Villiers a 25-year-old seventh-year theology student had played only 3 tests at that stage, he was unfamiliar with the traditions and modus operandi of Springbokrugby and his tactical knowledge was suspicious and he was inexperienced as captain.
Abie Malan – an outspoken character who did not know how to guard his tongue – was consequently a destructive influence; talking too much during matches and taking over at team practice with the result that Hennie Muller was completely marginalized and underutilized.
Abie Malan on the roll during one of the tour matches. Malan’s tendency to want to take over; his inability to guard his mouth caused problems from the start. After Malan lost his place in the Test side he become increasingly withdrawn.
No official appointment of a coach
Hennie Muller was certainly supposed to be the coach but with his appointment as assistant manager he did not have the status and authority of a coach neither did he act like one.
About Hennie Muller; Terry McLean wrote:
He was extremely consciencious, he had the quality of total recall which had characterized many of the foremost coaches I have known and after every game he was able to dissect the play of every player.
This was valuable. Because of modesty or natural self-effacement, however, he seemed wanting in the dynamism associated with great coaches and there were times during the tour when the impression was strong that he was not a happy man.
He, or someone else, perhaps Kobus Louw, perhaps the tour committee, was at fault in allowing players notably Abie Malan, to have much too great a say at practices. One suspect, with cause, that he would have liked to run the team much harder at training, but could not win support for his ideas.
I have footage of the second Test match and it is clear to me that this team was not properly coached. The lineout play, scrumaging and back line play had no structure. The ball was deflected in the line-outs and the AB stormed through at will and Nellie Smit – a slow-scrumhalf- were put under tremendous pressure which he could not handle. New Zealand tries came from kick though ball at the line out. In fact New Zealand’s main focus was to destruct and spoil; they produced very little constructive rugby in that test.
Leadership and ability to read the game and make adjustments were totally absent in this second test, not once did the Springbok team try to take the ball in and drive from the line-outs; no effort to ruck and maul from the line-out or to run starter moves and/or set-up play with a forward receiving the bal from 9 or 10 and driving it up to set-up second phase play; tactical kicking were poor; defense even worse.
Hennie Muller uninvolved, passive and unhappy next to the the field during the fourth test.
Tour plan, and injuries to key players
Not only were the relationships between the captain and Hennie Muller difficult, complex and exhausting but the tour plan was difficult and exhausting and the Springboks found the weather, playing surfaces, and referees difficult and exhausting.
At least three of the four men -Bedford, Hopwood, Botha and Nomis- worst hit by injuries could have affected the outcome of the first two tests.
The team was rushed to soon in Australia into what was, in effect, a test match, that is an encounter with New South Wales, which contained 14 of the 15 successful players of the Wallabies team of the first test a few days later. This match was played six days after arrival in Australia.
Refereeing was an even greater problem for the South Africans and it is significant that in the three matches, whom they lost in Australia no fewer than 30 of the 42 points scored by local teams were obtained from penalty goals.
In New Zealand a much greater difficulty was posed by the weather. July and August were abdominally wet months, the worst in a generation, if not in all time and the sodden Springboks splashed from one field to another to play in conditions as disparate from those in South Africa as New Zealanders would find it if they were transported to the South Poles.
A further difficulty was travel, for Cook Strait was crossed no fewer than eight times and the Springboks zoomed up and down New Zealand like yo-yos.
Impact and success of the 1950-51 team in SA rugby
The extraordinary achievements and success of the 1950-51 Springboks captained by Hennie Muller -who on their tour to Britain and France lost just one game against London Counties- had a decisive influence on Springbokrugby. The 50-51 team -easily the best Springbok team ever to visit the United Kingdom’s- primary trait, and strength was the ability of their forwards to run with the ball. This had a negative impact on the way rugby envolved in South Africa. McLean writes:
An insidious disease of superficiality, it was said, entered South African rugby, and this brought about it was contended, the defeat of the Springboks of 1964 by France during a short tour and, worse, the incredibly ill stared expedition of the Springboks of 1965 who in five matches in Ireland and Scotland were beaten four times and drew once.
The stigma of apartheid and the 1956 tour
This team has made an effort to be media and public-friendly. They were so “eager to please”, so willing to be accepted that it even occured a little over the top. It is not impossible that this was a reaction against the stigma of apartheid and the legacy of the 1956 touring team to New Zealand. The 1956 touring team with Craven as coach was exceedingly competitive and for them performance on the field was more important than popularity. Terry McLean wrote as follows:
Compared with the team of 1956, whose members could be, and often were, anti-social in their attitude toward the players or the Opposing team, the players of 1965 were angelically companionable. They could and did take wine with opponents and this installed in them that high niche of the New Zealand Rugby which is reserved for “real good jokers.” They took a loss better than any team I have ever known.
Bluntly, the Springboks were too popular for their own good. It would be wrong to impute that the ’65 Springboks spent so much time having a good time that they forgot their duty as tourists and their reason for being on tour. By and large they made an excellent impression in New Zealand.
McLean speculates that the team might have been trying to change the image that New Zealand had of South African rugby players. Personally, I think there simply was not enough leaders in the group. Winners in my opinion is not good losers. Good losers are people who do not believe enough in themselves; winners are concerned with winning and not with being accepted, they are not “nice guy’s”.
It is my opinion that the Springbok selectors, Kobus Louw and Dawie de Villiers should ultimately bear the blame for the pathetic performances on the pitch during the 1965 tour. McLean writes on page 26 in his book “The bok busters“:
It seems to me that the few days following the defeat by Wellington doomed the Springboks. I had come to believe that the team, especially the forwards were not being worked hard enough either to counter the enervating effect of hotel life and food to build assurance and timing in basic plays.
He goes further and explains how on the Tuesday after the loss against Wellington only 12 players arrived at team practice because the players, according to de Villiers, was fit enough. Hennie Muller – an advocate of fitness was the only man on tour who could have established traditional Springbok practices, procedures and conduct but he was not supported by Louw and de Villiers; marginalized and “over rule” when it came to tactical decisions, practice sessions and basic house rules such as what is permissible and what is not.
The Springboks discovered the young womanhood of New Zealand to be fascinated by their strength and size and social manners and responded with gallantry which absorbed many of the hours which might have been devoted to rugby; this was never addressed by team management; rugby was never confirmed as the first priority. It is no coincidence that just after Danie Craven arrived in New Zealand the Springboks unexpectedly won the third test and played some of their best rugby on the tour. Craven’s mere presence resulted in greater discipline and dedication.