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First blood to the All Blacks: South Africa’s rivalry with New Zealand celebrates a century

South Africa's scrum-half Faf de Klerk (bottom) tackles New Zealand's scrum-half Aaron Smith (R) beside teammate flanker Pieter-Steph Du Toit (L) during the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool B. Photo: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP

South Africa's scrum-half Faf de Klerk (bottom) tackles New Zealand's scrum-half Aaron Smith (R) beside teammate flanker Pieter-Steph Du Toit (L) during the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool B. Photo: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP

Published Aug 13, 2021


The Great War that rumbled in the trenches of Europe and in the colonies of their dominion had postponed the birth of one of sports' great rivalries, but when it finally came, it would kick off a century long struggle on world rugby's sprawling fields.

On this day, 100 years ago, South Africa and New Zealand contested the first Test match between the nations; and even after all those years it is still considered the blue ribbon match-up, the encounter that both Springboks and All Blacks must play to enter the pantheon of greatness.

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The tour of New Zealand in 1921, however, would be no easy feat.

Three years later, the All Blacks would be heralded as "The Invincibles," sweeping aside all and sundry when they travelled to the British Isles. As is now the case, the New Zealanders then were considered to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, rugby nation on the planet. So, when the Springboks arrived in Dunedin at the House of Pain on August 13 to play in the first Test they were considered very much to be the underdogs.

Playing in front of 25 000 supporters, both teams found themselves arrested by fear during the opening stages, Bok flank Tokkie Scholtz reminiscing afterwards that they were "too scared to open up for the first 25 minutes."

But it was the Boks who would strike first.

Olympian and wing Attie van Heerden - who in 1920 participated in the 400m hurdles of the Antwerp Games and had a personal best of 57.9 seconds - showed his pace to slash through the All Blacks defence to score under the poles - becoming the first man to score a try between the nations.

Full-back Gerhard Morkel, who was related to teammates Henry, Harry and Bok captain Boy - all of the famous Morkel Rugby Family - duly slotted over the conversion for the extra point to lead the Boks back into the shed at half-time with a 5-0 lead.

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Any confidence of securing a victory, however, was quickly suppressed in the second half.

The All Blacks returned with a vengeance, their pack putting the Bok defence to the sword in the second stanza as they ran in three unanswered tries through loose-forward Moke Belliss, playing like a man possessed; and wings Jack Steel and Percy Storey to record a 13-5 victory.

Steel's try was especially a highlight of the match.

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With New Zealand pinned back in their own half, the ball was passed wildly to Steel, who haphazardly managed to control it by clamping it between his shoulders. With the ball held in this awkward position, he broke the Bok defence, streaking towards the tryline while frantically trying to adjust possession of the ball into his hands. He finally managed to do so a few yards from the whitewash, the All Blacks taking the lead in the process.

Later next month, on September 25, the Boks and All Blacks will meet in their 100th Test in this Centenary Year at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin. And as it did 100 years ago at Carisbrook in Dunedin, it will start the next century of fierce competition between the two nations.

New Zealand v South Africa, first Test at Carisbrook

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New Zealand (0) 13; Tries: Belliss, Steel, Storey; Conversion: MF Nicholls

South Africa (5) 5; Try: Van Heerden; Conversion: PG Morkel

New Zealand starting XV: CN Kingstone, J Steel, MF Nicholls, GG Aitken (capt), PW Storey; DEO Badeley, HE Nicholls; JG Donald, J Rochardson, R Fogarty, A White, EA Belliss, WD Duncan, JE Moffitt, E Hughes

South Africa starting XV: PG Morkel, AJ van Heerden, C du Plessis-Meyer, WA Clarkson, HW Morkel; JP Michau, WH Townsend; WH Morkel (capt), H Scoltz, AP Walker, HJL Morkel, JM Michau, PJ Mostert, TL Kruger, FW Mellish

Sources: Springbok Rugby: An Illustrated Guide and Rugby in South Africa: A History 1861-1988


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