Rugby: Can Boks end curse of Eden Park?

By Dylan Cleaver

Violence between the police and anti-apartheid protesters accompanied the '81 test. Photo / NZ Herald
Violence between the police and anti-apartheid protesters accompanied the '81 test. Photo / NZ Herald

If we accept the laws of science carry more weight than superstition then we must dismiss the idea of sporting curses as nonsense - that they're merely the result of Bad Luck hooking up with his good mate Coincidence.

But some of the romance of sport is believing in curses.

Bostonians, for example, had to believe in The Curse of the Bambino was the only reason they went from 1918 to 2004 without winning a World series, it was the only thing that kept some of them sane.

The Curse of the Billy Goat, when Chicago Cubs' owner P.K. Wrigley evicted Billy Sianis and his pet goat during game four of the 1945 World Series, is still feared.

There is a strong correlation between appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated and bad luck befalling you, so much so that it also has a curse named after it.

The Americans love their curses, but they're not the only ones. The most famous Irish hex involved a denounced witch called Biddy Early who wanted to travel with the Clare team to their 1932 All-Ireland hurling final.

She was denied and put a spell on the team that said they would not win another All-Ireland until every member of that team had died. She was nearly right - when Clare beat Offaly in the 1995 final, only three survivors remained.

The Socceroos had their own curse, according to their Mr Soccer, Johnny Warren's autobiography. During the 1970 World Cup qualifiers, they hired a witch doctor to curse their opponents and beat Rhodesia 3-1.

When they failed to pay him he reversed the curse and they went down to Israel as illness spread through the team.

In 2004, Australian fan/film-maker John Safran travelled to Africa to hire a witch doctor to reverse the curse. He was splattered in chicken blood and, lo and behold, the Socceroos qualified for the 2006 World Cup.

It it possible there is a curse even closer to home? Could a member of the 1937 Springbok side - led by P.J. Nel, conducted by Dr Danie Craven and widely acclaimed as one of the greatest sides to ever tour here - have done something to desecrate the turf at Eden Park? Was the blood of a Springbok sprinkled on the centre square.

Since that day no Springbok side has beaten the All Blacks in Auckland. (It is true there have been just six more tests in the intervening 73 years but don't let that spoil the story.)

Victor Matfield isn't one for mysticism.

"We didn't have a good track record in Dunedin two years ago and we came through; we didn't have a good track record in Hamilton [last year] and we came through," the Springbok captain said. "History is there to be changed.

"Eden Park is almost a home for the All Blacks. They are at their best at Eden Park so they will be very tough."

This, too, is not the same Eden Park. Instead of the normal 45,000-plus crowd, there will be 25,000 sitting in a big-C shape.

Still, if you see a couple of Boks out the back throwing buckets of chicken blood over each other ...



All Blacks 11, South Africa 5

The All Blacks had waited 19 years to get the Boks back at Eden Park after the humbling of '37. It was worth the wait. In the most famous passage of the game, North Auckland No 8 Peter Jones scooped up loose ball at the lineout and galloped 35 yards for the try, sealing the first series victory by any side over South Africa for 60 years. Jones then proceeded to shock the nation by admitting over the wireless that he was "buggered".


All Blacks 20, South Africa 3

As in '56, the home side travelled to Auckland 2-1 up in the four-match series. After a tight 50 minutes, the All Blacks ran away with this, scoring five tries to nil. The home side boasted one of the greatest ever packs, with Ken Gray, Bruce McLeod and Wilson Whineray, in his final test, in the front row, locked together by the Meads brothers Colin and Stan. Marauding in the loose were Brian Lochore, Kel Tremain and Red Conway.


All Blacks 25 South Africa 22

The most infamous of all the tests with violent clashes between protesters and police in the streets around the park described by some historians as the closest New Zealand came to civil war. Inside the ground, the crowd and players were buzzed by a Cessna dropping flour bombs, one which hit prop Gary Knight in the head. The match was a thriller, with colourful Welsh referee Clive Norling the central figure as Allan Hewson, who had been maligned for his defence during the series, kicking the winning penalty deep into stoppage time.


All Blacks 18 South Africa 18

This series was much anticipated, being the first on New Zealand soil since the end of apartheid. The series was a bit of a fizzer though, and by the time the third test had kicked off, an average All Blacks side were 2-0 up. The All Blacks dominated up front against a Johan le Roux-less Boks pack after he was banned for biting St Sean Fitzpatrick's ear in Wellington.

However, a very ordinary backline played like a very ordinary backline and a very ordinary test was drawn.


All Blacks 55 South Africa 35

Some All Black greats were enjoying the Indian summer of their careers, like Fitzpatrick, the Brooke brothers, Olo Brown, Ian Jones and Frank Bunce. When Zinzan, St Sean and Bunce were missing the following year, the All Blacks were a vastly different outfit to the one that outclassed the Springboks this day.

Twelve tries were scored in all, seven by the home side, which were supplemented with 20 points from the boot of Carlos Spencer.


All Blacks 26 South Africa 15

There's three survivors of this game kitted up tomorrow and they will all be wearing green and gold - Victor Matfield, John Smit and Butch James. The All Blacks were a little beleaguered after being roundly criticised following a 15-23 loss to Australia two weeks earlier. This two tries to none win staunched some of the bleeding.

- NZ Herald

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