Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Weekend at Bernie's

The last time that the Australia beat the Springboks at Johannesburg was in 1963.

“Oh what a night
Late December back in '63
What a very special time for me
As I remember what a night”

So crooned Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons. The tale behind the lyrics is disputed. The lyrics seem to refer the loss of virginity, but arguments have been put forth that it relates to breaking of the 1933 Prohibition or is the tale of a cocaine high. If the latter it’s a pity
Wendell Sailor is gone from the current picture.

Whatever the true tale I have the sneaky suspicion that this may be the theme tune for the Wallabies this weekend. We will leave it to them as to how to substitute August 1963 for December 1963. Although how they will achieve this
sober will be tough. This is a drought that they will be desperate to break.

This weekend’s match between these 2 sides at Ellis Park marks the final rugby match of the 2006 Tri-Nations series and thought it might be interesting to research this event a little. Along this road of research I stumbled on an uncanny number of links and associations between these two matches, some 43 years apart.

So, the Springboks last lost to Australia in Johannesburg on the 24 August 1963. Some two months later on 3 November the current ‘Bok coach, Jake White, was born. The score was a close 11-9 (although in today’s parlance with a try being worth 5 points it would have been 13-9).

It was an interesting tour in that the Australians omitted Lloyd McDermott from their team. McDermott was the first Aborigine to represent his Australia, having played against the All-Blacks in 1962.

As McDermott says “blacks or coloureds weren’t allowed to tour South Africa. So I was placed in a very difficult position at the end of the 1962 season, where if I had have been selected for the Australian team, I might not have been allowed into the country because of the apartheid laws. On the other hand, if they wanted to relax the laws somewhat, I would have had to be seen as some sort of token white, an honorary white for the period of my tour, which I didn’t find very tasteful at all. So I resigned from the Queensland squad and I forfeited, because of my beliefs, any chance of getting selected in the team.”

The Australians only really began to
react politically to the South African tours in 1971 when they protested on a large scale against the Springbok tour. The tour went ahead as planned despite these protests and interestingly has a connection with John Howard, current Prime Minister of Australia. John Howard, an accountant by trade, was then treasurer of the NSW rugby union. He was handed the task of dealing with the Springbok needs on this protest marred tour. He was quite frank in fronting up that at the time he had no problem with the tour. More here. On the back of the this tour the scheduled Springbok cricket tour of Australia for following year was called off.

But back to 24 August 1963.

This was the third Test of a four-test series and the series was well poised at one-all. Springbok captain Nelie Smith had kicked 3 penalties against a drop goal and a penalty from the visitors. The score was 9-6 South Africa.

Speedy Australian winger, John Williams, sealed the match for the visitors with a converted try. This marked the first time that a touring side had beaten the Springboks in consecutive tests since 1896.

The Springboks had to clamour hard to square the series in the follow up decider in Port Elizabeth.

Nelie Smith, returned as coach of the Springboks in another protest ridden era. That of the 1981 “Flour Bomb” tour and the
first game against the United States on the way home from that tour.

So by what commodius vicus of recirculation do we attribute anything to the ties between the two games? I've no idea but I have a feeling that this is one long standing bit of history that a well-rested and sharp Australia with Bernie Larkham on song might well extinguish this weekend.
I hope that the efforts of the
Battle of Bafokeng will ensure a decent crowd at Ellis Park.

I hope that on Sunday morning John Smit and the his merry men are not the ones left pondering and mumbling the part of the tune that goes: “I felt a rush like a rolling bolt of thunder, Spinnin' my head around and taking my body under.”

And for myself,
I hope that I can, with all honesty, continue to repeat the opening line of this post. “The last time that the Australia beat the Springboks at Johannesburg was in 1963.”


Dave said...

Thanks ATW, enjoyed that post!

ATW said...

On rereading, the 'weekend at bernie's' title reference does seem a bit obscure and in need of explanation. Keo explains it here at comment #15.

Now Dave if you have any idea where I'd get to watch the game in Mumbai on my stopover on my way home I'd be forever in your debt (or at least owe you a few Kingfishers). I've exhausted every angle that I can attack google with on this.

Dave said...

Sorry my man, no idea, althouh I'm almost sure there would be somewhere!