The Rebel Tour

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Denied the chance to tour South Africa as All Blacks in 1985, a rebel group, known as the Cavaliers, went to the Republic the following year. LYNN MCCONNELL reports.

Grant Fox. Photo credit: Photosport

The Cavaliers tour of South Africa in 1986, an illegal venture, has been confined to the back blocks of New Zealand rugby history, a stain on the legacy but ultimately the last act of an unfortunate era in the game stemming from New Zealand's first acquiescence to South African racial demands in 1919 - 67 years earlier.

On that occasion New Zealand's champion Army team was invited to tour South Africa, and then after accepting, they were asked to leave any Maoris out of the side. Two players were left out of the party.

From then until 1960 no Maori would tour, and only after the 1967 tour was declined on the basis of 'No Maori, no tour', did the tours of 1970 and 1976 take place with Maori and Polynesian players accepted as 'honorary whites'.

Once New Zealand's legal system put the kibosh on the 1985 tour to South Africa, because it was against the best interests of the game the NZRU were trying to promote, the South Africans were always going to react. The boss of Transvaal's Rugby Union, then the powerhouse of the Springboks game, Louis Luyt, immediately sent his lawyer to New Zealand to check out the interest of players in partaking of a rebel tour.

Luyt's indifference to the niceties of gentlemanly behaviour were also to surface much later in the rivalry between the two countries. Think of his refusal to have Die Stem, the Afrikaaner anthem, taken off the menu at the reconciliation test played with New Zealand in 1992 and also of his antics after the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

He was used to getting his own way, even if he had to bully and pay his way to get it.

There were murmurings of where player discontent may be heading over the New Zealand summer of 1985-1986 and then all hell broke loose in mid-April 1986 when players left their Super rugby games, of the pre-professional variety, and caught flights to Sydney to join up with others arriving from around New Zealand to make the clandestine trip to South Africa.

New Zealand Rugby Union chairman Ces Blazey was chairing the centenary meeting of the International Rugby Board in London at the time the news broke. Ironically, South Africa's Mr Rugby Danie Craven, was deputy chairman for the meeting. Blazey hit the roof, because not only were players flying from New Zealand to join the tour, so were some who had been involved in an IRB World XV who played the British and Irish Lions in a special test in Cardiff.

Craven denied all knowledge of the tour, would not use South African Rugby Union power to call it off and confirmed the view that many New Zealanders held of him of his being more inclined to talk with what the American Indians might call, 'a forked tongue'.

What would frustrate the Cavaliers, who received a two-test ban from the New Zealand Rugby Union, was that more than one of the NZRU council had been supportive of their moves to play in South Africa yet had backed the two-game sanction imposed against them.

But by the time the Cavaliers tour occurred the New Zealand public had tired of the whole South African business. The protests of the 1970s, the divisiveness of the 1981 tour, the legal case that occupied so much of the media to prevent the 1985 tour taking place, had all taken their toll.

What support that may have been given had the 1985 tour gone ahead evaporated when it was realised the 1986 Rebel tour was to take place.

It was quickly apparent that it was for the players', not for the country. Many of those touring had only extended their playing careers in order to have the chance to play the Springboks in South Africa, and they were bitterly disappointed to be stopped on a point of law.

There had been a hastily-arranged compensation tour to Argentina, where test caps were awarded for the first time, the convenience of which would not be lost on the players who met the Pumas in 1976 and 1979.

The public, across a wider spectrum, had also realised the damage that had been done by rebel cricket tours to South Africa involving England in 1981-1982, Sri Lanka in 1982-1983, the West Indies in 1982-1983 and 1983-1984 and Australia in 1985-1986. While New Zealanders delighted in the first cricket series win in Australia in 1985 with Richard Hadlee taking nine wickets in an innings in Brisbane for the first win on Australian soil, they were also savvy enough to realise it had been achieved against a much weakened Australian team. Their concern was that a rebel tour could similarly emasculate the All Blacks.

After all, New Zealand were to face France in a one-off test and then to host Australia for a Bledisloe Cup series in 1986 and in the not-too-distant future there was a World Cup to consider.

Of the team selected to make the abandoned 1985 tour only halfback David Kirk and wing John Kirwan opted out of the rebel tour, although both came under intensive pressure to make the trip.

Kirk said the fact it was unsanctioned made the decision easier while he also didn't want to compromise his amateur status, or have to lie about it.

Luyt said the tour had been organised by the Transvaal Rugby Union without the knowledge of the South African Rugby Board. Negotiations had started when New Zealand's 1985 tour was cancelled when Luyt's lawyer visited New Zealand.

Luyt warned Craven that if he attempted to use SARB muscle to stop the tour the Transvaal Union would break away and form its own South African Union.

“They didn't consult us and now we have to take the rap for their actions,” Craven said.

However, Craven did have the power, which he didn't exercise, to prevent the Junior Springboks from playing the opening game of the tour.

Craven, under questioning at the IRB meeting, claimed he knew nothing of the tour, while Blazey was ignorant of it as well. An IRB board of inquiry was formed to look into the matter.

“There was no doubt that we were at fault over this tour, and I had no answers to the questions the delegates were asking. The members were really gunning for us,”Craven said.

“I know that we will have to pay for our actions because the golden rule of the IRB – don't rock the boat – has been broken. I was upset, but I still cannot see how the New Zealanders could not be apportioned some of the blame. Like us, they say simply that they did not know anything about it.

“But at least 30 families knew about it, and they must have talked. Be that as it may, the full wrath of the IRB has fallen on our shoulders alone.

“Not that I couldn't understand Dr Louis Luyt's motives. Rugby in South Africa was dying. And he obviously felt that he would have to mount his own rescue act.

“It may have been an expensive one, but when you consider the ecstatic reaction to the tour in this country, there is no way you cannot condone it,” Craven said.

And having scrambled to a 22-21 win over the Junior Springboks, or as the tour organisers called them, the Griquas Invitational XV, the Cavaliers then met Northern Transvaal in a game that almost scuttled the tour because of the level of violence unleashed against the New Zealanders.

One incident alone stands out as one of the most despicable acts perpetrated on a rugby field anywhere, and in its aftermath one of the nastiest comments ever uttered by a player occurred.

After breaking Andy Dalton's jaw 36 minutes into his only game of the Cavaliers tour, Northern Transvaal flanker Burger Geldenhuys, who had toured New Zealand with the Springboks side of 1981, said he regretted breaking Dalton's jaw but added, “I'm not sorry that I hit him.”

Dave Loveridge Credit: Photosport

Just to recap, Dalton was hit from behind, he never saw the punch coming. It was a gutless act that had it been done in an All Blacks test would have unleashed a storm of criticism. If it had happened in the modern day with TMO interventions, Geldenhuys might have been lucky to ever play again.

But he carried on. He claimed it was in retaliation to Dalton punching him – something Dalton emphatically denied.

Geldenhuys said: “I was punched by somebody in a loose scrum and turned to see Dalton standing behind me. He got up [? – he was supposed to be standing] and ran off, so I followed him and, in the heat of the moment, hit him from behind.

“But I can't apologise for punching him because the All Blacks play like that anyway. They stamp on you, trample on you, hit you and try and scare you off the ball – if you're not hard enough you'll become intimidated.

“Everyone has sympathy for them because they've risked a lot to come here – and I'm glad that they're touring as well. But, they're still here to beat us and we have to stand up to them and try and win as well.”

Amazingly, Geldenhuys said he wasn't expecting any disciplinary action.

“I'd have done the same thing even if the referee had been watching. At least I hit him in the open, I didn't try and hide it at the bottom of a scrum or something.”

The Northern Transvaal referees' secretary Harry van Eeden had his own view of the game, which featured what most regarded as at least seven brutal assaults.

“It was a good hard game of rugby that schoolboys could learn a lot from – they punch each other as well, you know. It's all part of the game. Anyway, a quick punch sometimes livens up a game.”

The assault caused deep disenchantment for the tourists. As one pointed out during a break at a game reserve, without Dalton's contribution the tour would not have happened.

Craven then ruled that Geldenhuys should not be selected for any South African board team. This was after he scored three tries for the Probables over the Possibles in their 53-21 win in the selection trial.

Northern Transvaal Rugby Union president, Professor Fritz Eloff said: “Northern Transvaal are totally against foul play, but we do not approve of the action taken against Geldenhuys.

“He was judged solely by TV. I wonder what the norm for selection will be in similar cases in the future.” [Little did he know]

The Cavaliers did beat Northern Transvaal 10-9 but a week before the first test they lost to Transvaal 19-24. The four games against South Africa resulted in a 19-18 win in the second, but the first (15-21), third (18-33) and fourth (10-24) were lost, under the care of Welsh referee Ken Rowlands.

Rowlands, had sought permission of the Welsh Rugby Union to referee the series but was refused. So after controlling the Welsh Club final he retired and became a free agent.

However, Dalton, who in his non-playing role had plenty of time to ponder Rowlands' refereeing, said at a function after the fourth 'international': “I have always demanded honesty from a referee, but when I think what our guys have gone through to get here – that may be irrelevant – we got less than that from the referee today.

“The announcement at halftime of Mr Rowlands' retirement from refereeing was welcomed by us.”

After only the first of the four internationals Craven couldn't help himself in commenting on the tour he knew nothing about: “This tour has done wonders for the country. Rugby has changed the front pages of newspapers, we no longer see Mandela's name, he has been moved to page six so as to accommodate rugby. And to me, this is wonderful.”

As if to further demonstrate how far out of touch he and South Africans were Craven still took a shot at the Rugby World Cup, something the Springboks had not been invited to in 1987.

“I agree that the World Cup is a farce and will always be one. And if we beat the Cavaliers in the test series, it will be an even bigger farce,” he said.

The Cavaliers limped home to find the public indifferent to their tour. The Cavaliers then saw the Baby Blacks beat France with one of the great performances in All Blacks history and go down by one point to Australia in the first of the Bledisloe Cup tests before the two-test bans were completed.

It is correct to say there were divisions in the All Blacks for the remainder of 1986 and there were some who had issues with Kirk. But when the rugby gods decided that captain Dalton would be injured and unable to play in the 1987 Rugby World Cup, it was Kirk who assumed the leadership and who held the Webb Ellis Cup aloft at Eden Park and who is for ever remembered for his stance.

South Africa may have won their series against the Cavaliers but in the longer term it is New Zealand who have emerged stronger in the post-reconciliation era. New Zealand's Cavaliers were a momentary hiccup, South Africa's issues were, and still are, a multi-generational miasma that may take many years before being resolved.

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