Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: When play resumed 21 years ago

In 1992, after an 11-year hiatus, the Springboks host the All Blacks - and lose.

At the aftermatch Ellis Park speeches Springbok hooker Uli Schmidt wiped tears from his eyes as he began to talk.

"In South Africa," he told the audience, "there are two types of Springboks, those who play the All Blacks and those who don't.

"Thank you for making us real Springboks."

About 72,000 filled the old ground in Doornfontein in Johannesburg in 1992 to watch the resumption of the famous rugby rivalry after an official hiatus of 11 years.

There were several thousand Kiwis in the crowd and about 15 of us who had travelled to the Republic after the tour of Australia, to report on the historic trip and solitary test.

It was the 21st anniversary of that match recently, but that small fact was lost in the race to analyse the latest clash between these two rugby giants.

Jousting between Sky and TVNZ about television rights, outrage about the singing of Die Stem and police charges at droves of flag-waving spectators filled the pre-match notes as the crowds swirled past the seductive braiis and bands guarding the Ellis Park entrances.

It was a step back in time and a stride into the unknown, alluring and disconcerting in the same moment.

"If you are South African and don't have a lump in your throat you are not human," commentator Hugh Bladen declared as he began his broadcast.

The emotional buttons got an early charge when All Black skipper Sean Fitzpatrick was attacked in the first scrum by lock Adri Geldenhuys as his front row cleared a path for his fist.

All Black wing Eric Rush, Marc Ellis and Mark Cooksley had played for SA Barbarians against Namibia in the curtain raiser, showered quickly and settled into their front row seats.

"Fitzy came to the sideline with a decent cut on his jawline, you could see his teeth through the wound," Rush said.

"The medics slapped some Vaseline into the hole, to stop the bleeding and away went Fitzy to play the whole game. I remember he squealed after the game though when he was being stitched up.

"You could see Geldenhuys still smirking to his mates in the next lineout."

The All Blacks raced out to a significant lead and then clung on to win 27-24 as the Springboks ran the ball more and the visitors felt the effects of their lengthy trip and the altitude.

"Our game plan was effective but we could not ram it home because the players were so knackered," coach Laurie Mains said.

When referee Sandy MacNeill blew his final whistle, it was the end of a 16-game tour for the All Blacks which had begun in Perth and included Adelaide, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane and Cairns before the tourists flew to South Africa.

They arrived after midnight in Johannesburg but a boisterous throng of about 1000 people was at Jan Smuts Airport to welcome the tourists with their songs and chants.

Influential rugby and political figures were also at the airport but the All Blacks would not meet Danie Craven, co-president of Sarfu, until later in the tour as other games were held at Bloemfontein, Pretoria and Witbank before the climax in Johannesburg.

It was an exhausting expedition for the players but a stimulating trek for all of us who had been brought up on tales about rugby in the Republic to finally savour that sporting essence for ourselves.

- NZ Herald

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