A while ago I came upon a gem of a book in a second hand bookstore here in NZ. The book is about the 1970 All Black tour to South Africa entitled “Rugby and be Dammed” written by G.R. David. What made the book so unique and interesting, for me, is the fact that it provides a New Zealand perspective on the whole tour and subsequently contains information that I as a South African have not heard or read before. David was a sport journalist for the “Evening Post” a newspaper in NZ and was the official New Zealand journalist on the tour. A brief description of each game are provided in the book, including the preparation for the various matches as well as quite insigtfull after match perceptions by the touring party.
Since discovering and reading this book I have bought three more books on the 1970 rugby tour, written by New Zealand journalists and sport writers.
My plan is to post on a weekly basis some interesting pieces on the respective tour matches here on my blog, combining information from at least four sources. This will coincide with posts on the 1965 tour. In 1970 I was 8 years old and my hope is that some of the older generation rugby supporters in South Africa -who attended or listened to these matches- will pitch in and share their memories with us.
Gabriel David begins his book with the following statement:
“How can you evaluate a rugby tour that was as much a failure as it was certainly a success? The All Blacks have rewritten the record books in South Africa but for one and that was winning the series. How can you make a fair and honest appraisal and reach a conclusion about a side that won every provincial match yet still managed to lose the series 1-3“
He stresses the fact that no ambiguity should exist that NZ has sent their best 30 players on tour. The team was without doubt the best (of all possible New Zealand rugby sides) which toured South Africa up to that that stage. This was a side that has been unbeaten for 17 consecutive tests stretching over 5 years since the fourth test against the 1965 Springbok team.
He then asked the question:
“How could such a great touring side lose 1-3 in a series against a Springbok team that would never rate as the best New Zealand opposition has faced in the last 5 years?“
David then explains what he think were the reason(s) for the series loss. The first issue he addresses is injuries to key players and arising from that shocking team selection decisions by the New Zealand selectors. He specifically refers to the omission of Wayne Cottrell after the lost in the first test and express the opinion that the selectors went a little panicky after the third test when they omitted experienced players like AJ Wyllie, MJ Dick and Fergie McCormick.
Another major reason for the series loss in his opinion was the fact that the All Black had it too easily in the tour matches. He put it as follows:
“They had it too easy in most of the games and there was a relaxation in the basic skills. Tackling became a lost art because the tourists were seldom called on to set up defensive screens. They were suffering from delusions of grandeur. They were winning so handsomely that they disregarded the fundamentals of the game and indulged in fancy patterns that had too many loose threads. “
According to him, the perception of many South African, that there is depth in Springbokrugby is wrong and he goes on to state that he believes that a large gap exists between national and provincial rugby in South Africa.
Provincial rugby in SA is bad, negative and unimaginative so much so that the All Blacks had little trouble to completely destroy virtually all the provincial sides they played on tour. These provincial teams have too easily and quickly complained about so-called foil and dirty tactics and especially about the All Blacks standard practice to step on or ruck obstructing opposition players away at the break downs.
He concludes that Springbok side consists of a “team of oldies’ and that South Africa should be concerned (rather than euphoric) about the state of their rugby and their lack of depth in certain positions.
I think in SA few would have agreed with him in 1970 but in 1972 the correctness of his observation came true when a Springbok side full of new faces lost against John Pullin’s England team. And two years later it was an absolute nightmare when the Lions of 1974 toured unbeaten through South Africa not losing a single match on top of winning the first three test matches and drawing the last one.
The 1970 All Black touring side to South Africa