NZ Rugby World
A country divided
THE 1981 SPRINGBOKS TOUR SAW MASS PROTESTS IN NEW ZEALAND AND A GAME IN HAMILTON CALLED OFF. IN HIS NEW BOOK, BRUTAL, AUTHOR RON PALENSKI REVISITS THOSE TUMULTUOUS TIMES.
The nature of the tour in 1981 changed forever after just one game — and some contend changed New Zealand forever — in Hamilton on 25 July when a few hundred protesters broke through a fence and gained access to the centre of the ground; they were surrounded by police but there was no attempt to evict them. The impasse, with spectators in the stands shouting abuse, ended with rugby officials, after talking to police, calling the game off. It was a victory for the protesters, a defeat for the police and for rugby. The Commissioner of Police, Bob Walton, was at Rugby Park and decided against trying to remove the protesters. This angered some of the police rank and file so much that they talked about expressing a lack of confidence in their senior officers, a road of sedition down which no democracy would want to travel. Alarmed at the possible consequences, the Police Association secretary, Bob Moodie, drove overnight from Wellington to Hamilton and talked to both Walton and the cops on the job. There had already been talks with rugby officials about the future of the tour and Walton back in Wellington had talks with colleagues and politicians. The result of it all was that the tour would proceed, but the focus had irrevocably changed: it was now a law-and-order issue. The battle lines had been drawn.
Drained of its emotion, it was a simple issue: the rugby tour was legal and the police had been charged with ensuring it continued. The tour was taken beyond rugby; it was police versus protesters with rugby sitting uncomfortably somewhere in the middle; extremists on one side or the other, venting their ideological fury. It was the disaster (Prime Minister Rob) Muldoon had predicted and which he could have prevented. Some of the clashes, especially in Wellington and Auckland, were so violent it was a wonder no one died; plenty were injured enough to require medical care. The protests followed the matches, but there were others coinciding with game days throughout the country. Some were entirely peaceful though disruptive, such as in Wellington when those against the tour sat down on a motorway and forced its temporary closure. There was also a (mostly) silent vigil in the gallery of the House of Representatives. In a time of such unrest, some people with no particular interest in improving human rights in South Africa joined the protests simply because it was a golden opportunity to have a crack at police in a quasi-legitimate cause; the counter to this was that some police saw a chance to exercise their muscle as well. New Zealand was not a pleasant place to be in the winter of 1981. The All Blacks’ most outspoken advocate of playing against South Africa, Andy Haden, was a wellknown figure, and never one to shy away from an argument. He never made any secret of where he lived in Auckland and protesters could make their way there as well as autograph hunters or memorabilia seekers. Haden was pragmatic. He acknowledged that protesters painting slogans on his driveway or chanting outside the house into the night to keep him (and his family) awake was a price he had to pay. ‘Largely as a result of being selected for the All Blacks, I inherited all that,’ he told authors Tony Johnson and Lynn McConnell. ‘It was distracting but I doubt if it was any more distracting than sleeping in squash courts in Christchurch or under the stand at Athletic Park [as the Springboks did]. They had their difficulties to overcome and we had ours.’ What had happened in Hamilton had hardened resolve: ‘After the . . .
game against Waikato was called off, it became a pitched battle on and off the field. The Springboks didn’t want to go through all this and go home defeated and we didn’t want to fight a rearguard action against the Springboks and lose after all the disruption as well.’ The South Africans had won each of their provincial matches in the lead-up to the first test in Christchurch and should, through continuity of experience alone, have been favoured to beat the All Blacks. Two of the Springboks, hooker Robert Cockrell and flanker Theuns Stofberg, were the only veterans from the 1976 test series to play in Christchurch and Stofberg was captain, preferred ahead of the tour captain, Wynand Claassen. New Zealand had beaten Scotland earlier in the winter and had to find replacements for Graham Mourie and BruceRobertson; Ken Stewart took Mourie’s place and thus became the only survivor from 1976. Andy Dalton, who was made captain, had extra motivation. His father Ray had been in the 1949 All Blacks and Dalton readily acknowledged this was a factor. ‘From my upbringing, the South Africans had always been the ultimate foe to play against,’ he said. New Zealand were dominant 14–9 winners of the first test in Christchurch; three tries to one told the story and perhaps the score flattered the Springboks. More than usual, they’d been desperate to win the first test so they’d have the psychological edge for the rest of the series, which had been reduced to three tests. There had been more than a hint that the unusual circumstances were getting the South Africans down. Lucky for them, the match after the first test, against South Canterbury in Timaru, had been cancelled to give the police some respite, so the Springboks headed over the Alps for some rest and recreation. Michael Shafto, sports editor of the Johannesburg Star, knew how the Springboks were feeling. ‘Harassment and inconvenience is . . . a fact of life on this tour and the players have resigned themselves to it,’ he wrote. ‘But it does not make life any easier and is hardly the ideal way to prepare for an international.’ Greymouth and Hokitika changed all that. The Springboks cavorted around like tourists, delightedly putting one another in the stocks at Shantytown or locking teammates into the ‘jail’. Police presence was vastly reduced, and so too protesters. They trained one afternoon at Hokitika and several hundred people ringed the ground, including a group of schoolgirls in uniform who carried a placard, ‘Support the Springbok tour’. Batteries recharged, the Springboks found the touring life more to their liking and in their next match, just up through the Buller Gorge in Nelson, they beat the locals 83–0 and followed that with a draw with New Zealand Māori. The Māori match could well have been a loss. The Springboks were trailing 9–12 when time was almost up and Jacobus (‘Colin’) Beck dropkicked a goal. The newly buoyant Springbok mood continued and they gained a series-equalling 24–12 win in the second test in Wellington. Yet again, wind at an Athletic Park test was a factor and Dalton gave it to the Springboks when he won the toss.
They duly capitalised and were up 18–3 at halftime, their score including a finely taken try by wing Gerrie Germishuys. It seemed an innocuous enough move to begin with. The Springboks won their own ball from a scrum, and halfback Divan Serfontein got the ball out to Naas Botha who, perhaps against natural instincts, passed instead of kicked. The excellence of Danie Gerber took it on but the crucial factor in the try was that fullback Gysie Pienaar was up in the line and his presence and Germishuys’ pace were more than enough. It was not a satisfactory afternoon for the All Blacks, who came away with just four penalties to Allan Hewson. The Springboks took even more heart a week later, and a week before the final test, when they thrashed a strong Auckland team 39–12. It was an Auckland team containing six All Blacks and one, Gary Whetton, who would make his debut in the third test. As ever, there were two Eden Park stories, one rugby and one about the protests. This time there was a novel twist because an Anglican priest, Geoff Walpole, dressed in white shorts and a Suva referee’s jersey, somehow got on to the field just as play was about to begin and kicked a match ball away in the general direction of the main stand. It had no material effect on the match but gained Walpole a niche in history, including an honourable mention in the Methodist Church historical magazine, which also noted that Ces Blazey was a lay Methodist preacher. Such bedfellows the tour made. At least Walpole’s gesture was harmless and applauded as such, unlike the actions of some protesters who thought it clever to scatter tacks and fishhooks over match grounds. Just over a week later, it was all over and the country collectively might have breathed a sigh of relief, if such things were possible. Rugby supporters of course rejoiced in the third test and series win, with Hewson kicking the last-minute penalty goal that gave the All Blacks the win. The penalty, because the Springboks had not retired ten metres, was disputed. The closeness of the result and the dramatic way the game reached its climax tended to overshadow the rare feat of the South African right wing, Ray Mordt, scoring three tries. But the abiding memory for the nearly 50,000 at Eden Park was the sight and sound of a Cessna aircraft, with two protesters on board, making low passes over the ground and occasionally dropping bags of flour which, of course, in retrospective memory, became ‘flour bombs’. There was genuine fear among spectators that the pilot of the aircraft may have had more sinister intentions; no one knew, least of all the police who used a helicopter to shadow the Cessna. It was a bizarre and somewhat frightening end to the strangest, most unusual and most unwanted rugby tour of all.