Above: Wellington College All Black and second five-eighth Jack Griffiths was Wellington’s best player in this match according to The Dominion in its follow-up edition.
Result:?South Africa 29 – Wellington 0
When: 7 August 1937, at Athletic Park.?
Weather: Fine and sunny, but with a cold southerly
Widely regarded as the strongest international side to ever tour New Zealand, the 1937 Springboks won 16 of 17 games and beat the All Blacks 2-1 in the Test series. They did so playing attractive, free-flowing rugby. They scored 411 points and conceded 104 and they scored 87 tries, 55 of which were run in by the threequarters. Prior to arriving in New Zealand in mid-July the Springboks had won 10 from 11 in Australia and had beaten the Wallabies 2-0.
Against the All Blacks, the 1937 Springboks lost the first Test 7-13 in Wellington but won the second 13-6 in Christchurch and won the decider 17-6 at Auckland.
There was a buzz of anticipation when the South Africans arrived at Eden Park to play their tour opener against Auckland, which they won 19-5. They then went on to beat a combined Waikato-Thames Valley-King Country side 6-3, Taranaki 17-3 (at the brand new Rugby Park, New Plymouth) and Manawatu 39-3.
The Springboks continued their descent down the North Island, their next match against Wellington being the last of the tour matches before the first Test at Athletic Park a week later.
Wellington weren’t as strong as they’d been since the end of WW1, and not as formidable as they’d appeared earlier in the decade when they’d beaten the Great Britain Lions and the Wallabies in consecutive years in 1930 and 1931. The current Wellington team contained just three capped All Blacks, second five-eighth Jack Griffiths (Poneke), hooker Artie Lambourn (Petone) and prop Jock Wells (Athletic).
Nevertheless, excitement was again high in Wellington for this match. Gates opened at 10.30 am and by 11.30 am 12,000 were assembled in the ground for the mid-afternoon kick-off.
Wellington won the toss and had first use of the wind. But the toss was to be just about all they won as the South Africans came out and scored four first half tries to lead 16-0 at halftime. The Dominion said afterwards of the first half: “The Springboks’ superiority in every department of the game was clearly established and Wellington’s was mainly a defensive game. The home backs had not put on a single organised passing movement and the forwards were hard put to it to counter the bulk and the speed of the visitors.”
Turning into the wind, Wellington was given little chance. But they at least shored up their defence and it took South Africa 22 minutes to cross again. South African wing Dai Williams ran in his third try of the match on fulltime to complete a 29-0 win. The Dominion congratulated Williams and South Africa’s other wing, Fred Turner, for being the best two backs on the field.
Although up against a class side, there was wide disappointment about Wellington’s defeat. Their forwards were too slow and the backs were laboured.
Following this match, the Springboks set up camp in Masterton to prepare for the first Test at this same ground, which was watched by an estimated 45,000.
Wellington: 1. C.M. Ongley, 2. A. Lambourn, 3. J. Wells, 4. A.H. Andrews, 5. C.J. Pringle, 6. J.H. Butler, 7. F.H.F. Smith, 8. K. Guy, 9. C. O’Halloran, 10. R.C. Veitch, 11. A.H Wright, 12. J.L Griffiths (c), 13. J.W. Fleming, 14. A.G. Hansen, 15. J. Vartan
South Africa: 1. C.B. Jennings, 2. J.W. Lotz, 3. H.J. Martin, 4. G.L van Reenen, 5. W.F. Burgh, 6. M.A. van den Berg, 7. L.C. Strachan, 8. H.H. Watt, 9. P. du P. de Villiers, 10. D.F. van de Vyver, 11. F.G. Turner, 12. J. White, 13. S.R. Hofmeyr, 14. D.O. Williams, 15. G.H. Brand
Wellington captain and second five-eighth Jack Griffiths was recognised for being the home team’s Player of the Match in against South Africa – ironically for his defensive work. The Springboks put six tries on Wellington, but according to reports this would’ve been several more if not for the 63kg All Blacks’ fine tackling.
After making his debut for Wellington as an 18-year old in 1931, Griffiths made his Test debut in 1934 against Australia. He toured with the All Blacks to the UK in 1935/36, appearing in 16 matches, 10 at first five eighth, five at second five-eighth and one at centre. In 1936, Griffiths captained the All Blacks in both tests against the 1936 Australians, but was not required for this 1937 series against South Africa. But toured Australia again the following season.
Griffiths had a distinguished World War II career, winning the MC, being mentioned in despatches, rising to the rank of major and serving as aide-de-camp to General Freyberg. In North Africa he captained the 19th Infantry Battalion to win the Freyberg Cup and the 2nd NZEF team against Combined Services, both in 1940. His father, A J Griffiths, represented Wellington 1904-05 and was a New Zealand selector 1920-23. His uncles, Jim (1913, 20) and Fred Tilyard (1923) were also All Blacks.
Jock Wells was Wellington’s prop for this game, but just as often played at flanker and was good enough to have played at openside and blindside flanker for the All Blacks in his only two Test appearances in 1936 against Australia.
Wells was from Northland but moved to Wellington for work in 1933 and joined the University club. He moved across town to Athletic in 1934 and cracked the Wellington team for the first time. He retired at the end of 1937 having played 30 matches for Wellington.
Petone hooker Artie Lambourn was Wellington’s sole representative in this Test series against the Springboks, playing in all three internationals. Lambourn was a fixture of Wellington and All Black sides throughout the 1930s, post the forced adoption by the IRB of the modern 3-2-3 scrum formation.
Lambourn was an established All Black in 1937, making his debut in Australia in 1934. He toured with the All Blacks to the UK in 1935/36, playing 22 of the 30 matches and all the Tests at either hooker or prop. His last Test was in 1938 against Australia. He played 40 games for New Zealand including 10 Tests.