The South African touring party captained by Theo Pienaar
consisted of 29 players, two of whom had international experience
from before the war. The fullback, Gerhard Morkel, had played
outstandingly in all five internationals on the Springbok tour of
the UK in 1912-13 and, although thirty two years old and slower
than in his prime, was to exert a massive influence on the outcome
of this series. The forward WH 'Boy' Morkel was thirty six years
old and his international career had started against the British
Isles in 1910. Immensely strong and a revered leader, he came out
of retirement for the tour and was appointed Springbok captain for
each of the three tests against the All Blacks as Pienaar's form
had dipped during the Australian leg of the tour.
The Springboks played nine provincial matches in New Zealand
before the 1st test. Although they drew with Taranaki and lost
narrowly to Canterbury in the sixth match of the tour, their record
suggested they would be formidable opponents in the test matches.
One player selected for the first test was the front row forward
Frank Mellish from Western Province who had already played six
internationals for England in 1920-21 so three of their players had
experienced that unique test match atmosphere.
The All Blacks picked a new side for the 1st test at Carisbrook,
Dunedin under the captaincy of Wellington centre George Aitken,
later to represent Scotland in the mid-1920s and play in their
Grand Slam side of 1925. There were five players from Wellington
and just one pre-war international, the front row forward EE 'Ned'
Hughes who had won four caps way back in 1907-08 and aged forty
remains the oldest player to represent New Zealand in a test match.
There was much press comment when their pre-war scrum half EJ
'Teddy' Roberts who had played three tests against Australia in
1914 was unexpectedly omitted, and not a single player from
Canterbury was picked despite them being the only province to have
defeated the Springboks.
23,000 enthusiastic spectators packed into Carisbrook and a try
by the Transvaal winger and Olympic 400-metre hurdler AJ 'Attie'
van Heerden towards the end of the first half gave the Springboks a
5-0 interval lead. The second half belonged to the All Blacks who
scored three tries, two converted by Mark Nicholls, without reply
to win the match by 13 points to 5. The second try was scored after
a magnificent fifty-yard run by the right wing Jack Steel who
caught the ball from a very high pass and continued running at full
pace while he adjusted the position of the ball without dropping
After winning their next three provincial matches, the
Springboks made six changes to their side for a test match in front
of a 40,000 crowd at Eden Park, Auckland that they had to win.
Mellish was replaced by 26 year old Nic du Plessis in the
front-row. It would the first of five caps for du Plessis in which
he would not taste defeat. The All Blacks restored Teddy Roberts at
scrum half and made two changes in the forwards.
Once again the Springboks took the lead when centre Billy
Sendin, one of the smallest and lightest players to play
international rugby, scored from an overlap after twenty minutes
and Gerhard Morkel converted the try. The All Blacks responded
quickly when AL 'Les' McLean went over after a forward rush for a
try converted by Mark Nicholls. The second half was hotly contested
and both sides had their chances, but it took a magnificent drop
goal from Gerhard Morkel in the 68th minute to separate the sides
and give the Springboks victory by 9 points to 5.
Four matches remained on the tour and the Springboks disposed of
their two provincial opponents comfortably and the New Zealand
Maori team much less comfortably, winning 9-8 in a very tight and
controversial match. All that remained was the third test at
Athletic Park, Wellington on September 17th 1921, a match dubbed
'The Rugby Championship of the World', which would decide the
world's leading rugby-playing nation.
There have been twenty one international matches played in the
history of rugby which have ended without a point being scored by
either side, but this was surely the most exciting. The test was
played in driving rain and appalling conditions which meant that
running rugby was virtually impossible. The All Black captaincy was
given to their scrum half Teddy Roberts with Aitken dropped
controversially in favour of a new cap in the centre, Karl Ifwersen
a former rugby league international. The selectors picked four new
caps in the All Blacks team and the Springboks made several
changes, mainly due to injuries at the end of a long tour, with two
new caps in their team.
The match was described as a "strenuous mud scramble" and
kicking by the backs on both sides allied to driving forward play
replaced running and passing. Both sides had their chances but
chasing a kick ahead and touching the ball down in such conditions
was a lottery and no tries were awarded, not always with the
agreement of the crowd nearest the try line. Gerhard Morkel earned
most plaudits with his immaculate line kicking which time and again
saved the Springboks.
The impact of this historic series was summed up in Wellington's
leading newspaper The Dominion on the Monday following the
"The conditions that prevailed for the third Test match between
South Africa and New Zealand were not conducive to spectacular
football. Owing to the heavy rain the ground was in parts covered
with water, and the greasy nature of the ball made handling
difficult, with the result that the play developed into a great
forward contest. On the day a draw was a very fair indication of
the merits of the teams. The Springboks previous to this match were
second only to New Zealand in the Rugby Football world, judging by
their record in England. Each side having won one test and drawn
the third, South Africa now shares pride of position with New
Zealand in leading the world in this particular branch of