Rugby: Memories differ on game of shame

By James Ihaka

Half a century on from Springboks' 1956 thrashing of Maori, James Ihaka asks questions about order to throw match.

The Maori versus Springbok match at Eden Park ended with the home side being hopelessly outclassed. Photo / NZ Herald
The Maori versus Springbok match at Eden Park ended with the home side being hopelessly outclassed. Photo / NZ Herald

It was a game in which the Maori All Blacks were expected to be at least competitive.

But it ended with their being hopelessly outclassed.

The year was 1956 and hundreds of Maori spent a cold August night outside Eden Park in Auckland hoping to snap up tickets for the New Zealand Maoris match against the touring Springboks.

With players such as All Blacks Stan "Tiny" Hill, Pat Walsh and Bill Gray, punters felt their side was in with a better chance than their Maori predecessors in 1949, who were barred the opportunity of All Black selection because of the South African republic's apartheid regime.

By noon on match day the ground staff had closed the gates as a record 59,800 people had jammed inside the park where they were entertained with tunes from the Northern Military District Band.

But inside the Maori changing rooms, the atmosphere was as gloomy as the weather that closed in shortly before kickoff.

Bishop Muru Walters, the team's fullback, said that then Maori Affairs Minister Ernest Corbett had told his team to throw the game.

The request is understood to have been made the night before the match at the team's hotel.

"What he [Mr Corbett] said was: 'You must not win this game or we will never be invited to South Africa again'," Bishop Walters told Radio Waatea this week.

"That was a pretty destructive message, actually ... and it ripped the guts out of our spirits of our team," he said.

Supporting Bishop Walters' account was Henare Pryor, who as a 22-year-old travelled from Matata to watch his older brother Albie play at No 8 for the Maori side.

Mr Pryor, who claims he was outside the changing rooms before the match, said Corbett, New Zealand Rugby Union officials and even Springbok manager Dr Danie Craven went in to have a pre-match chat with the Maori players.

"They went in there all right ... and now the NZRU is telling me it didn't happen. They're a pack of bloody liars.

"What actually transpired was they didn't want a black team to beat a South African side."

To add further insult, Dr Craven allegedly told the Maori team to keep the game clean.

The Springboks then proceeded to "kick the shit out of them in every ruck or tackle", Mr Pryor said.

The team received little in vocal support from the thousands of Maori there and by halftime hundreds of people, who could catch only glimpses of the match, drifted out of the ground.

When the final whistle sounded, 15 dejected and despondent Maori players left the field on the wrong end of a humiliating 37-nil thrashing.

"When the boys came off the field they were just crying in frustration. There were tears, they felt very deflated - they didn't know what to do," said Mr Pryor.

"It was always Albie's biggest regret ... it was a regret that he took to his grave."

Albie Pryor died in 2000.

But Former Hawkes Bay lock Heitia Hiha can't remember the Minister of Maori Affairs' visit.

Mr Hiha, 77, also had no recollection of Springbok manager Danie Craven approaching his team.

But he does recall his team being told to "tone it down" by the NZRU.

"There were rumours it was going to be a bloodbath, it was built up as that," he said.

"So, the very first lineout Albie ran towards their five-eighth and he didn't get anywhere near him and the referee warned him that he would be off the field if anything untoward happened."

Mr Hiha blames the side's preparation which included a South Island tour a month before their match against South Africa.

"We played all our tour games using a forward pattern which was not familiar to us ... then we were told the night before the game by management to go back to playing Maori rugby, the open, running-type with the flair."

Mr Hiha's locking partner Stan "Tiny" Hill is adamant Mr Corbett did not approach the team.

Mr Hill served with Mr Corbett's son, Desmond, as a member of J-Force in Japan in the late 1940s and knew his family well from his days growing up in Okato, Taranaki.

"If he was in the dressing rooms I'm sure he would have come straight to me," said Mr Hill.

To this day, Mr Hill maintains the team approached the game using the wrong tactics and were outplayed by a "bloody hard bunch".

"We tried to play like the University team the week before, but they didn't have to deal with the loose trio who played havoc with us ... it was damn hard yakka out there.

"The thing is this was 50 years ago and I can't understand why it has become an issue."

Bishop Walters declined an interview request from the Weekend Herald but said he had submitted a report of the events to Minister of Maori Affairs Dr Pita Sharples for his consideration.

"My desire is to seek a solution which is based on an apology ... two Governments were complicit in having Maori not participate."

Dr Sharples has previously labelled the NZRU arrogant for refusing to apologise to former Maori players for excluding them from past tours to South Africa on racial grounds in 1928, 1949 and 1960.


Maori hammered by springboks on 'saddest day'
- From the NZ Herald archives. August 27, 1956:

New Zealand Maori Rugby suffered one of its saddest days on Saturday.

The long-awaited fixture with the Springboks, far from resembling the first match in Napier in 1921, when South Africa was fortunate to win, turned out to be a procession of tries and goals, all of them scored by the tourists.

The final score of 37 to 0 was made up of five goals, two dropped goals and two tries.

The Maori troubles began in the forwards, where even S.F. Hill, the All Black, was guilty, especially early in the game, of hanging off from rucks.

H. Hiha, a lock, was a fine player, though the packing methods of himself and Hill were comically inefficient.

H.K. Emery and C. Hohaia were occasionally prominent but the remaining forwards, who weighed much more than most provincial packs, lacked vitality and speed to the checked ball.

Hundreds of Maori families camped outside the park on Friday night. They were joined at 4am by more than 1000 young Maoris who left a dance at the Maori Community Centre in Freemans Bay and marched out to Eden Park.

By match time many Maori mothers had given up hope of seeing the game and had retired to the rear of the grandstands.

After the Maoris' stunning defeat, the men had little to say. The women joked at their menfolk's expense: "You fellows can't play football - too much pork and puha."

August 31, 1956

An appeal to New Zealanders to show patience and understanding of the South African racial policy was made by Mr D. de Villiers, assistant manager of the touring South African Rugby team, in Auckland last night.

Speaking as a guest at the Auckland Dairy Factory Managers' Association conference dinner, Mr de Villiers said:

"We have come across an enthusiasm in New Zealand the like of which I have never seen before. And we have also sensed a feeling by a percentage of New Zealanders which is not healthy. It is a conclusion similar to that which have been shared by other countries."

- NZ Herald

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a2 at 18 Sep 2014 00:54:15 Processing Time: 616ms