Result:?Wellington 23 – South Africa 6
When: 3 July 1965
Weather: Fine, with a southerly breeze
The Springboks toured New Zealand in 1965 for the fourth time. The tour lasted from 30 June from the first game against Poverty Bay (won 32-3) to 18 September to the fourth Test against the All Blacks (lost 3-20).
The tour took in 24 matches, with the Springboks’ record being won 19 and lost five. New Zealand won the Test series 3-1, with wins in Wellington (6-3), Dunedin (13-0) and Auckland and a Springbok victory in Christchurch (19-16). As well as losing to Wellington, their other defeat was to Auckland (14-15).
Their two best players were lock Frik du Preez and centre John Gainsford, who had played against the All Blacks at home in 1960, along with four other squad members.
After accounting for Poverty Bay in Gisborne midweek, their second match was against Wellington on Saturday 3 July. They arrived in the capital to a cocktail party, where a waitress named Suzie may or may not have been working, and then settled down to training. The stage was set to see how competitive these South Africans were against leading provincial opposition, Wellington.
This was Wellington’s greatest win.
At the time, Wellington had recorded notable victories oover several international teams, such as beating the Anglo-Welsh in 1908 and Great Britain in 1930.
Against South Africa, Wellington had previously lost in 1921 (3-8), in 1937 (0-29) and in 1956 (6-8).
There was much fanfare on the morning of this match. Wellington Rugby Supporters’ Club organiser Dick Evans?led a pre-match parade through Wellington’s streets all the way up to Athletic Park. Thousands joined in and the crowd was six deep in places in the city. There were 40 floats, 10 bands, marching girls and Leo the Lion with his trainer alongside cracking the whip.
Away from the limelight, Wellington coaches Bill Freeman and Ivan Vodanovich had been plotting how to win. They instructed Wellington to shelve expansive rugby, which were entertaining but high risk, and instead to compete for everything in the forwards exchanges and kick the ball over the top and chase hard.
Wellington’s team featured seven current or future All Blacks: Ken Gray (Petone), Nev MacEwan (Athletic), Ralph Caulton (Poneke), Ian Uttley (University), Mick Williment (University), Graham Williams (Wellington) and Tom Lister (Athletic).
Wellington was switched on from the outset. The crowd erupted in the 10th minute when fullback Williment kicked a left-foot 40-metre dropped kick.
Williment doubled the score with a penalty on 15 minutes, followed by another to put Wellington ahead 9-0.
The South Africans replied with a 50-metre penalty into the breeze, a whooper, but Williment replied to extend Wellington’s lead to 12-3.
Then just before halftime, Williment came into the backline and linked up with second five-eighth Graham Bowerman (Marist Old Boys) and centre Uttley for the latter to score a converted try that put Wellington in front 17-3 at halftime.
South Africa closed the gap early with a second penalty early in the second half, but Wellington’s pack was firing on all cylinders and they couldn’t make any more inroads. Instead, Wellington sealed victory with a pair of penalties to first five-eighth Brian Frederickson (St Pat’s Old Boys) and the home side celebrated a famous win.
The game plan had been executed to a tee –Wellington’s forwards were collectively credited with producing one of the union’s finest afternoons of rugby.
Evening Post Sports Editor G.R. David opined afterwards: “I wonder if any Wellington pack of the past has played with such fire and dedication as Saturday’s one did. The Wellington eight established the foundations of the win, built the victory structure round these foundations and erected a supremacy dome on the top.”
Afterwards, five Wellington players made the Junior All Blacks that met the South Africans later in the tour, these being: Ken Grant (University), Alan Osborne (University), Junior Finn (Marist Old Boys), Lister and Williams.
The South Africans were gracious in defeat. Springbok captain C.M. Smith congratulated Wellington on its clean, hard-fought victory afterwards in the Dominion.
Wellington: 1. K.F. Gray, 2. K.N. Grant, 3. J.M. Finn, 4. I.N. MacEwan, 5. P. Delaney, 6. T.N. Lister, 7. G.C. Williams, 8. G.L. Hermansson, 9. B.A. Coulter, 10. B.T. Frederikson, 11. R.W. Caulton, 12. G.N. Bowerman, 13. I.N. Uttley, 14. A.J Osborne, 15. M. Williment
South Africa: 1.A.W. MacDonald, 2. G.F. Malan, 3. C.G.P Van Zyl, 4. C.P Goosen, 5. F.C.H Du Preez, 6. J.A. Nel, 7. J.H. Ellis, 8. T.P. Bedford, 9. C.M. Smith, 10. K.Oxlee, 11.J.T. Truter, 12. W.J. Mans, 13. J.L. Gainsford, 14. J.P.Englebrecht, 15. C.J. Mulder
This was widely regarded as Ken Gray’s finest hour for Wellington in his 125-game career for the Lions between 1959-69.
Wellington captain and loosehead prop Gray raised the Springbok head aloft to the crowd after the match.
The Evening Post said this of Gray: “If any one Wellington forward can be sorted out for a display that influenced the others, then it must be captain Gray. His tall, robust figure was at the head of the drives.
Gray, who played for the Wellington College second XV at school, started his rugby at Paremata before moving to Petone where he made his name. He was originally a lock but moved to the front row in 1961 and his career took off. Gray played 50 matches and 24 Tests for the ALl Blacks between 1963-69. Like Williment, Gray passed away young, dying suddenly in 1992 aged 55.
Blindside flanker Tom Lister was noted for the passion and fervour that he brought to all teams he played for, be it for Athletic in Wellington club rugby, for Wellington and for the All Blacks in a brief All Blacks career that was to see him play 18 matches and eight Tests between 1968-71.
From South Canterbury, Lister had made his first-class debut in 1962, before moving to Wellington to crack the big time. For a time, Lister worked as a rubbish collector on Wellington’s streets, something another All Blacks flanker Jerry Collins was to do years later. Lister played for Wellington for three seasons in the mid-1960s, eventually making the All Blacks to tour Australia in 1968 and later touring South Africa in 1970.
Along with Williment, halfback Brian Coulter was singled out as having a big game against South Africa.
Coulter came into the?Wellington?side in 1964 under new coach Freeman from the Marist Old Boys club that had won the Jubilee Cup three years running between 1962-1964. Coulter was behind the scrum in two of?Wellington?rugby’s most memorable wins against
Coulter later turned to coaching where he prepared Marist St. Pat’s sides to the 1978 and 1979 Jubilee Cup titles - this team going undefeated in 42 consecutive matches between 1978-1980. In recent years Coulter?has served on SANZAR judiciaries.