Proving Who Is Boss

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Proving Who Is Boss

Second test against the 1955 Lions, Newlands


The 1955 Lions were a brilliant side. For many they were better than even the 1974 Lions. The back-line consisting of Dickie Jeeps and Cliff Morgan at scrum-half and fly-half respectively, and Jeff Butterfield and Phil Davies in the centre, and Tony O’Reilly on the wing, was probably the best attacking backline ever to tour South Africa. They had speed, skill, flair, vision and a sense of adventure seldom seen on a rugby field. 

The first test at Ellispark was one of the great test matches in rugby history. The Boks were at one stage up 11 -3, but then the Lions played brilliant attacking rugby to take a 23 -11 lead. The Springboks launched a determined fight back, but in the end went down 22 – 23 when Jack van der Schyff missed a crucial conversion in the dying seconds of the game. As a result Van der Schyff never played for South Africa again – a serious injustice if ever there was one.

A number of changes were made to the Springbok team for the second test at Newlands. Most notably the Pretoria policeman Tom van Vollenhoven (who had a poor game at Ellispark) was moved from centre to the left wing as coach Danie Craven noticed that Vollie had a devastating step off his left foot. In this game he was to oppose the brilliant Tony O’Reilly. Van Vollenhoven’s place in the centre was taken by Wilf Rosenberg. Even though the Springbok forwards laid the foundation for a resounding victory, this test match will also be known as Van Vollenhoven’s match; he scored three tries, wrote his name in gold in the Springbok annals, and became a national hero overnight. Throughout the country schoolboys cut their hair in the Van Vollenhoven crew cut style. 

Interest in the game was fever pitch and rugby enthusiasts descended on Cape Town from all over Southern Africa. Tickets were almost unobtainable and there was a hectic black market in tickets for the game. The night before the game long queues gathered in front of the gates at Newlands in order to get the best standing places the next morning. In those good old amateur days this was a common occurrence at test matches.

Tommy Gentles

The Springboks played typical, traditional Springbok rugby; the fly-half kicking a lot and the forwards softening the opposition up before letting the three-quarters loose. The forwards laid the foundation and although the Lions gave their all, they could not stem the green avalanche which descended on them. The result was that South Africa won by two goals and five tries to a penalty and two tries – final score 25 – 9.

The game started with a Springbok blitzkrieg, but it was the Lions who scored first when Cameron landed a penalty. Both sides then missed several penalties before the Springboks scored just before halftime. Starting a movement in their own half Gentles and Stephen Fry took play into the British half where Des Sinclair cross-kicked to his forwards who carried the movement on before letting the ball out to the three-quarters. Again Sinclair kicked ahead. Van Vollenhoven was there to gather the ball amidst three or four defenders to score an unconverted try. Halftime : 3 – 3.

Tom van Vollenhoven scoring the second of his three tries (1)

Six minutes after the resumption Ulyate used a grubber and when O’Reilly picked picked it up, the Springbok pack were all over him. From the resultant loose scrum the ball came back on the Springbok side and was sent along the line to Rosenberg who passed to Stephen Fry for the latter to send Van Vollenhoven away on a 40 yard run for a splendid unconverted try in the corner. The Lions fought back and when Cliff Morgan broke with O’Reilly in support, it looked like a certain try. Theuns Briers came across as cover defence but the movement went on and Morgan obtained the ball again he had his whole line on his left. However, he opted for a reverse pass which went forward and a certain try was thrown away.

Nine minutes after half-time Van Vollenhoven scored his third try. It had a decisive effect on the run of play and thereafter the Lions were never really in the game. Van Vollenhoven was fed on the blind side, near the halfway line, shot past Jeeps, cut inside of O’Reilly and then straightened as he hared off towards Cameron. Another lightning side-step and Cameron was left floundering while Van Vollenhoven ran round to score at the posts. This was another great individualistic try in the Springbok annals.

Tom van Vollenhoven scoring the first of his three tries

The Springboks had supremacy in all departments of the game and stayed on the attack. Hooking a tight head midway between the 10 yard and the 25 yard lines, the ball went out to Sinclair who broke between Davies and Butterfield before letting out to Rosenberg who was too fast for the defence and scored a good try. From the kick-off the Springboks attacked again , and when the ball was sent out to the three-quarters Sinclair and Rosenberg brought off a dummy scissors  which enabled Rosenberg to run through and send Dryburgh over for a try behind the posts which he himself converted. Eight minutes later the ball was passed out to Ulyate from a loose maul inside the Lions’ 25. The Fly-half went right through to send Theuns Briers over in the corner. 20 – 3. 

Thereafter play became a bit scrappy, but Cliff Morgan broke beautifully before sending Butterfield over for an unconverted try. The Lions attacked again and Griffiths dived over, but the final pass was forward. When the Lions threw in quickly from a line-out, Dawie Ackermann took the ball and kicked ahead to gather again to score a try which Dryburgh converted. With only a few minutes left Butterfield broke and passed to Phil Davies and then to hooker Bryn Meredith who scored in the corner. Final score 25 – 9.

This match once again proved the old Springbok recipe: subdue upfront and then strike with the backs. Van Vollenhoven’s three tries were the first for a Springbok in South Africa, and he scored them in succession ! South Africa’s total of seven tries had also never been equaled in South Africa. It was simply a splendid Springbok performance.


*Written by Willem Frost

Real Rugby

Real Rugby

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