AUCKLAND, NZ – The Rugby Championship takes another break this weekend, so the four respective sides can tend to injuries and wider squad members can get some game time in the domestic competitions. Last week I wrote a preview that focused heavily on the ugly side of the All Black/Springbok rivalry, specifically the unfortunate role that South Africa’s racist apartheid regime played in events over the years. One of the clips I put up was probably the craziest event seen on (or, to be more specific, above) a rugby field in NZ when a light plane repeatedly flew dangerously close to Eden Park in an attempt to disrupt the final test in the protest-stricken 1981 Springbok tour. So what other crazy moments have happened over the years? NOTE: This list is pretty All Black heavy, so please feel free to chuck in anything I may have missed in the comments section.
10. The lowest attended test match ever
Since we started off talking about the ’81 Springboks, we’ll continue on talking about them with this ridiculous fact. After they left NZ, the Boks then travelled to play some tour matches and a test in the USA. Naturally, the protest movement was waiting for them, causing disruption to their lead up fixtures as it had on their NZ tour. However, things got serious when a rugby club in Indiana was bombed in an apparent act of protest. This led to the extraordinary decision to play the test against the Eagles in secret a day earlier than planned, therefore giving it the dubious honor of being played in front of around 30 spectators, the smallest crowd to ever watch an international rugby match. After that the Boks went home and into international isolation for 11 years, while it turned out the ‘bombing’ was an act of deliberate arson as an attempt to collect insurance money. Read more about it here, including how Jesse Jackson got involved.
9. Double knock out
If you’re ever thinking of hitting a guy after he’s taken a mark, make sure it’s not Serge Blanco. Especially if Éric Champ is in the vicinity to assist him in knocking you out, like what happened here to English winger Nigel Heslop back in 1990:
8. The Water Polo Test
Wet weather rugby is pretty fun, but this game at Eden Park between the All Blacks and Scotland was so water-logged someone could have actually drowned. New Zealand had caught the end of a tropical cyclone that had swept through the Pacific, which meant it had been raining solidly for a week. For the record, the All Blacks won 24-0, with all the points coming off one of the Scottish players fumbling a kick somehow.
7. Changing room haka
Wales have gotten a bit funny about the haka lately, so much so that in 2005 the WRU declared that it be performed before the singing of the Welsh national anthem. The All Blacks refused to bow to the demands of the Welsh and did the haka in the changing room instead, meaning no one got to see it except the All Blacks non-playing squad members and coaching staff. However, someone forgot to tell the 74,000 strong crowd at Millennium Stadium, who were left puzzled as to why the haka never happened. To make up for it, the All Blacks put on a clinic and thrashed the Welsh 45-10.
6. Suzie the waitress
You’ve all seen the movie Invictus, right? The story of Nelson Mandela’s role in the Springboks 1995 World Cup triumph over the All Blacks did pretty well in box offices around the world, but in NZ the feeling was that they’d missed out one key player in the whole episode. The All Blacks were clearly sick on the day of the final, most of the squad stricken with food poisoning and the blame fell on a mysterious waitress named ‘Suzie’ who had served the team the days leading up to the final. Whether Suzie existed or not if if any nefarious act was committed will remain a mystery, but All Black manager at the time Colin Meads has since regretted his decision to keep the matter under wraps in the days leading up to the game. He feared that it may give the Boks a mental edge, but after the images of players were vomiting on the sidelines were shown, questions back in NZ were asked and the ‘Suzie’ legend was born. Since then, her name has become synonymous with unexpected sporting results in NZ, rugby or otherwise.
5. Michael Brial goes insane
This game featured in my last Top 10 list with Matt Burke’s sensational solo try making it in pretty high up the list. The second Bledisloe Cup match in 1996 is also remembered for an incident early in the first half in which Wallaby flanker Michael Brial unleashed a blitzkrieg of uppercuts on All Black centre Frank Bunce. Bunce assumed an effective defensive posture for the assault, meaning most of Brial’s punches were deflected and also betrayed the fact that he knew it was coming. The reasoning behind Brial’s moment of madness has never been completely confirmed, but legend has it it stemmed from an incident in a Super 10 fixture years before. Despite being maybe the most blatant piece of foul play ever seen in a test match, referee Jim Fleming and his linesmen decided that Brial could stay on the field. Which, in the end, was fitting because in the 80th minute Bunce broke through Brial’s tackle to score the winning try.
4. The longest tour ever
Players these days often complain about the length of the season. Well, they should look at what these guys went through before they open their mouths next time. The 1888-9 New Zealand Natives were a fore-runner to the All Blacks we know today and went on a tour of NZ, Australia and the British Isles that lasted 14 months in which they played 107 games. Not just content with rugby, they also played a few games of Australian Rules Football and even a couple of soccer games as well. By the end of the tour, several players had managed to get married, one got himself committed to lunatic asylum and another died (considering the state of hygiene and medical science in 1888, that’s probably not so surprising). The tour set the groundwork for the formation of the NZRU in 1892 and all future tours by the side eventually known as the All Blacks were modeled on it, although they shortened them significantly and made them stick to playing one sport. Read more about them here.
3. The haka standoff
Wales, not to be outdone by their forcing of the All Blacks to perform the haka in their changing room (see above), decided to try and disrupt the famous pre-match ritual again in 2010 by refusing to budge at it’s conclusion. This led to possibly the most awkward moments on TV as both sides did a full on stare-down like a couple of juiced up bros in a gym arguing over who gets to use the squat rack first. Poor referee Jonathan Kaplan had no idea what was going on and nervously waved his arms around in a futile attempt to get the game started. Eventually it did, a full four minutes late thanks to the two teams childish actions.
2. Knocked out and sent off
If there was ever an incident that summed up the phrase ‘insult to injury’ it’s what happened to Welsh lock Huw Richards in the 1987 World Cup semi final against the All Blacks. After picking a fight with his opposite Gary Whetton, Richards got decked by All Black number 8 Buck Shelford. He woke up from his enforced slumber to find referee Kerry Fitzgerald of Australia sending him off for starting the fight. Shelford went on to play in the All Blacks 50-match unbeaten streak between 1987-90 and achieved legendary status, while getting knocked out was the last act in a Welsh jersey for Edwards’ career.
1. Fat man attacks ref
Piet van Zyl was a Springbok supporter who, after consuming a truckload of beer and brandy, decided it’s be a good idea to run onto Kings Park in Durban and attack referee David McHugh of Ireland during the All Blacks/Springboks Tri-Nations test in 2003. McHugh had previously awarded the All Blacks a marginal penalty try to put them in the lead, which is probably what fueled the big man’s anger. On a personal note, this game was being played at 3am NZ time on a Sunday morning, so I was watching it in a bar with my team mates after having been ourselves drinking since the end of our game roughly 10 hours earlier. In our inebriated state it appeared that van Zyl was actually one of the Springbok players, leading to a confused discussion that didn’t get resolved until one of us watched the replay the next day. Van Zyl was apparently banned from ever attending a rugby match ever again, however given the impossibility of ever enforcing that it seems highly unlikely he hasn’t been back to watch the Boks again. McHugh had to be media-cabbed off the field, claiming a broken collarbone. However this seems highly unlikely as well given that van Zyl’s tackle looked pretty ineffective, probably because he’d exhausted himself running his gigantic gut across the field.
OK, I’m sure I’ve missed a bunch out so let me know what other crazy moments should have made it in the comments section. I’ll be back later in the week with a preview of round five of The Rugby Championship.
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