Monday, April 02, 2007

Razor-wire & flour bombs

August 29, 2006

A test that would have been a classic even if “Biggles” had not made his appearance.

The All Blacks and Springboks are in the middle of back-to-back test matches in the Republic. Last month the New Zealand media re-visited the infamous Springbok tour of 1981. This past weekend Dan Retief at Super Rugby looked at the 25th anniversary from a South African perspective:

Can it really be 25 years ago?

by Dan Retief

27 August 2006

[...] The images of the expedition are imprinted in my mind as though they happened yesterday. Cold and wet, watery skies, gumboots, brightly-coloured parkas and checked tops in blanket-like material… demonstrators who gathered with their placards and shouted things like “One, two, three, four! We don’t want your racist tour!.”

They scattered glass on the field in Gisborne before the first game against the Bay of Plenty and stunned rugby officials and those who were pro-tour by trampling down a fence and charging onto the field at Rugby Park in Hamilton in an act of determined defiance that caused the second game against Waikato to be abandoned.

At that point it seemed the tour might be over and that the Boks might be sent home, but the focus had switched away from rugby to one of law and order; New Zealand’s government, with pugnacious Rob Muldoon at the helm, deciding that to allow lawlessness to prevail contained serious implications for the future stability of a country that had not previously experienced such upheaval.

Thus it was decreed that the Springboks would stay and the police came up with the idea of billeting the team within the portals of the stadiums where they were playing – particularly in the bigger centres where demonstrators posed a bigger threat.

The perimeters of all the grounds were ringed with razor-wire, indeed the edges of the pitches themselves, and rugby patrons were submitted to body searches before being admitted to watch games; a feature of the tour that caused Don Cameron of the NZ Herald to entitle his book on the tour “The Barbed Wire Boks.”

The tour had started in mid-July and now it was September 12 and, in spite of the obstacle course we had run to reach this point, none of us could have guessed that we were about to witness one of the most bizarre sporting spectacles ever in what came to be known as the “Flour Bomb Test.”

There was still plenty of support for the rugby and it was with an air of anticipation that I settled into my seat in the Press Box in the grand stand for there was a very good chance that Claassen’s team, containing many outstanding individuals, could emulate the 1937 team by winning a series in New Zealand.

The first time the flour-filled missiles hit the field they splattered like giant seagull droppings and I took a while to realise they come from an aeroplane.

Some pamphlets had drifted down earlier on and one tended to pass it off as a clever innovation by the protestors. The aircraft would return again and again; dropping an assortment of flour bombs, pamphlets, flairs and little banners attached to makeshift parachutes and by bending down low you could just see the little single-engine craft below the overhang of the grandstand roof as it swooped over the ground; passing from left to right.

At one stage it came in so low that that the engine protested loudly as it climbed over Eden Park’s famous open terraces to my right and spectators in this stand were requested, over the public address system, not to throw objects at the plane for fear of injuring someone sitting lower down – and indication of just how close the plane must have been to the top of the stand.

Funnily enough most of us in the Press Box were no more than mildly irritated by the plane’s intrusions; for the simple reason that we were enthralled by a test match of stupendous excitement and quality – a game that would have been a classic even if “Biggles”, as we were soon calling the pilot, had not made his appearance.

It was only when commentator Keith Quinn of NZTV came down from his position on top of the grand stand that I realised how serious the situation had been. Quinn was in shock, white and shaking; saying in a strained voice that there were times he could see into the cockpit of the plane.

The situation had been extremely dangerous and could have resulted in an appalling tragedy if the pilot had lost control and smashed into the embankment, or the houses behind, but the two teams and those of us with an obscured view did not appreciate how tense it must have been – especially for the helpless police.

Amazing that against this backdrop the rugby match was one of the best I have seen.

The All Blacks started rampantly and a rout seemed imminent as the desperately defending Springboks trailed 16-3 at halftime.

But then it was the turn of the All Blacks, especially their backs, to face the plane’s strafing runs and the stage was set for Ray Mordt, the Boks’ right-wing, to claim his place in history.

The rugged Mordt scored three tries as the score went from 16-9 to 19-15, to 19-18 and briefly 22-22; Naas Botha agonisingly missing the touchline conversion of the third try as the cream-and-black Adidas ball held it’s line just outside the right-hand upright.

A draw might have been the most appropriate result and my stopwatch had flickered on to 48 minutes of the second half when Welsh referee Clive Norling set in motion the chain of events that would cost the bitterly disappointed Springboks a share of the spoils.

A free-kick against Divan Serfontein at a scrum, even though he was still standing with the ball clasped to his thigh, became a full penalty and Allan Hewson, New Zealand’s frail fullback, made a name for himself by kicking the vital goal.

Standing under his posts Wynand Claassen, who had fought a personal battle to regain control of his team, thought the kick would miss and then felt his world collapse as it went over.

None of the players and none of us who were there will ever forget it. I clattered out my match report on my little portable typewriter and then picked up the phone to dictate my copy to the Rand Daily Mail. All that remained of the epic tussle were the blotches of flour on the trampled field. “Do you know it’s snowing in Johannesburg?” said the lady on the other end of the line. Can it really be 25 years ago?

Read the whole article.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home