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On 20 July 1963, South Africa played Australia for the first time in a rugby league test.  This history-making test was the fifth game of the Australia – New Zealand Tour of the Rugby League Springboks, the national team of Rugby League South Africa.[1]

The tour results up to that point indicated that the visitors had won exactly half of the games played. While the Springboks, under the captaincy of former rugby union test player Dawie Ackerman, had won comfortably against Northern Division (20-10) and Monaro (41-2), it was tough going against Sydney (5-49) and Queensland (16-32).

The Sydney game was attended by 18 219 fans – three times more than the number that attended their first, and nearly five times the number that attended the second tour game. In a preview to this match, the Rugby League News magazine declared in no uncertain terms its view that the Rugby League Springboks were a “worthy addition to the ranks”. It further quoted W.G. Buckley, Chairman of the Australian Control Board, who stated unambiguously that the hosts were satisfied that the presence of the visitors “will fully justify our decision to invite them”.[2]

Match Preview

SA Rugby League Springboks

The last pre-test game (against Sydney) was a particularly tough one which was further aggravated by the late withdrawal of tour Captain Dawie Ackerman and Martin Pelser. In addition, they played on a muddy surface. The Rugby League News further noted that “a failure to cover in defence and the lack of attempts to prevent players who had crossed in the corner going around to touch down near the posts thus making an extra two points a certainty.”[3]

Reg Gasnier

Its reporter further noted that given South Africa’s late start in the game,  such weaknesses were expected and that it would have been “a poor commentary for the years and years of thought and training which have gone into our Rugby League build-up campaign if a bunch of converts from Rugby Union could achieve that standard in a matter of a few matches.” The Canberra Times’ edition on the morning of the test in turn noted that: “The Australian rugby league players will not take the field  with any idea of taking it easy” but “will be going ‘flat out’ to try  and secure selection  for the team to tour England and France later this year.”[4]

Teams

Australian Kangaroos: Les Johns (Canterbury), Ken Irvine (N.S.W.), Reg Gasnier (N.S.W.), Graeme Langlands (N.S.W.), Eddie Lumsden (N.S.W.), Earl Harrison (N.S.W.), Arthur Summons (N.S.W.), John Raper (N.S.W.), Ken Day (Queensland.), Richard (Dick) Thornett (N.S.W.), Peter Gallagher (Queensland-). Ian Walsh (N.S.W.) and Noel Kelly (N.S.W.).

Coach: Clive Churchill.

Rugby League Springboks: Gert Smit; John Gaydon; Alan Skene; Johan Pieterse; Bart Erasmus; Colin Greenwood; Mannetjies Gericke; Martin Pelser; Bunny Oberholzer; Jan Verwey; Willem Vermaas; Dawie Ackerman (Captain) and Victor Jacobs.

Match Day

Dawie Ackerman – South African Captain

The Springboks made their debut in the rugby league test arena in front of 10 210 eager fans. This test was an important one since the tour was after all supposed to pave the way towards South Africa’s long-term involvement with the game. It was also an important milestone for referee Jack Bradley, who was to officiate only his fourth test match – the first involving South Africa or a non-Antipodean opponent.

Despite putting up a strong performance during the first half, the team after losing a key player like Martin Pelser to injury, lacked both depth and superior speed. Consequently they lost the match by 34 points to 6. The Kangaroos scored eight tries, including two by Graeme Langlands. Les Johns further scored five goals for the hosts. In addition, Reg Gasnier also scored a try which at the time gave him the “all-time world record for rugby league” as the first man “to have scored tries in tests against four other rugby league nations.”[5]  The South African points came from three penalty goals by Gert Smit.

Image credits

Image 1:  Les Johns: Rugby Card

Image 2: SA Rugby League Springboks [Rugby League News]

Image 3: Reg Gasnier [National Rugby League]

Image 4: Dawie Ackerman – South African Captain [SA Rugby Museum}

[1] Anon, “Changes in Test team”, Canberra Times, 17 July 1963; p. 48

[2] Anon., “History is made: South Africa worthy addition to ranks”, Rugby League News, vol. 44, no. 18 (13-14 July 1963); p. 3.

[3] Anon., “The league view: South Africa will improve”, Rugby League News, vol. 44, no. 19 (20-21 July 1944); p. 3.

[4] Anon., “R.L. Test side will be ‘flat out’”, Canberra Times, 20 July 1963; p. 40.

[5] Anon., “Gasnier again: New record to a great champion”, Rugby League News, vol. 44, no. 20 (27-28 July; p. 14.

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