1965: a bad year for SA rugby

South Africa have been among the top rugby union nations in the world for 129 years, but if ever a survey was made to recognise the worst season of all in living memory, most supporters would without hesitation select 1965.

It was a year in which eight Test matches were played – all overseas – and seven were lost.

OLD GUARD: Former Springbok captain Hennie Muller was brought on as the Springboks coach in 1965 to help the team during a rough tour

The rot started at the end of the 1964 season when the Boks hosted one Test match against the visiting French side on a short tour of SA.

The match was played at the PAM Brink Stadium in Springs.

SA capped Mike Lawless, a 22-year-old Western Province flyhalf and he was made the scapegoat for SA’s 6-8 loss. It took Lawless five years before he was able to regain green and gold colours when he toured Great Britain in late 1969.

In 1965, the Springboks were ill-advised to tour Ireland and Scotland at the end of the Northern Hemisphere season, rather than the beginning of the season as was the custom.

Two Tests were scheduled, against Ireland in Dublin and Scotland in Edinburgh, but by the time the games started, both opposition teams were battle-hardened after playing in the Five Nations competition.

Two new players, flank Snowy Suter and centre Wynand Mans, were capped against Ireland. Mans scored a try but Suter’s services were dispensed with after the Scotland Test. The result in Dublin was a 9-6 victory for the home side, the first time that Ireland had ever beaten the Boks in a Test.

At Edinburgh, a new halfback combination of exciting flyhalf Jannie Barnard, then aged 20, and scrumhalf Dirk de Vos was introduced, but to no avail. Scotland took the opportunity to inflict their second win over SA, 8-5.

They had won the inaugural overseas Test for the Boks back in 1906.

A number of changes were made to the Boks for the long tour to Australia and New Zealand that followed. A new coach, former Bok captain Hennie Muller, and a new captain in Dawie de Villiers were appointed.

Three new props, Hambly Parker, Sakkie van Zyl and Andy Macdonald; wings Trix Truter and Gert Brynard; flanks Jan Ellis and Lofty Nel; and locks Tiny Naude, Piet Goosen and Piet Botha were brought in.

Mannetjies Roux returned after two years while utility back Dave Stewart, locks Avril Malan and Gawie Carelse, props Tiny Neethling and Fanie Kuhn and wing Corra Dirksen, who all toured in Ireland and Scotland, along with Suter, were omitted from the touring party.

Two Tests were played against Australia and both were lost. The Wallabies won 18-11 at Sydney and 12-8 at Brisbane, before the squad moved to New Zealand for four Test matches. For many, this was like playing for the mythical Championship of the World.

But things did not improve for the Boks.

They found the going tough in the first Test at Wellington, losing 3-6 in a close encounter.

Sakkie van Zyl and Jan Ellis made their debuts in the match, with Ellis going on to be one of the greats of Bok rugby in a long career which lasted until 1976 in which he played 38 Tests and scored seven tries.

In the second Test at Dunedin, SA failed to score and the All Blacks cantered to a 13-0 victory with three tries.

Then on to Lancaster Park, Chrstchurch. The field was muddy in parts but there was some sun.

Over 52, 000 spectators were present to see the Boks hit back but at half-time the All Blacks were 16-5 ahead.

Then Gert Brynard scored two tries, the second by jumping over three defenders, while the veteran centre John Gainsford scored his second, but the conversion failed. Honours were now even but time was rapidly running out.

Then, with three minutes left on the clock the Springboks were awarded a penalty some 30m out and 5m in from touch.

Naude took the muddy ball. Brynard whispered to him not to kick at goal, but to rather tap-kick and run for the line.

But Tiny was having none of that.

He was determined to take the kick, although conditions were not at all favourable. He took his time setting up the ball, then ran up and gained immortality with his kick.

It barely cleared the cross-bar but SA took the lead 19-16 and with it their first victory of the season.

The fourth Test was an anti-climax. The home team ran in five tries and won the match 20-3 and with it the series.

This signalled the end of a most disappointing 14 months for SA.

Bok pride would only return two years later in a four-Test series against France at home, when SA capped eight debutantes in the opening Test at Durban and heralded in a new era of confidence for the players and fans alike.


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