My 4 favourite Newlands Tests

2018-06-22 08:24
Newlands (Supplied)

Cape Town - Late rugby-writing doyen AC Parker used to write of the “Newlands roar” being a critical ally to the home cause, whether the Springboks or Western Province in his time.

While hardly the most scientific observation in the game, “Ace” stuck doggedly by his contention for years: it is true that the cramped stadium, albeit with one of the most stunning backdrops in rugby venues globally, has always generated a special din when packed to capacity.

Increasingly threatened with extinction, it will be a sad day if, as strongly rumoured, Saturday’s third Test between South Africa and England is going to be its last as an international host.

I favour the likely lock-stock-and-barrel move (it’ll happen, eventually!) of rugby in the city to much more spacious and just as attractively-located Cape Town Stadium.

But will I miss Newlands? You bet.

After all, I have lived generous portions of my life at three different residential locations very nearby, including once in a flat immediately bordering the old, partly-tarred stadium car-park at the Liesbeek River’s edge, where the WP administration is now housed in a multi-storey complex.

Identifying four favourite Tests witnessed in person at Newlands is tricky, but here goes …

South Africa 26 British and Irish Lions 22, 1980

This was my second experience of a Test match at Newlands, the first having been the 1976 clash between the Boks and All Blacks as an 11-year-old.

But Bill Beaumont’s 1980 Lions were awaited with special anticipation, given the hideous series thrashing the prior 1974 “immortals” had given the Springboks.

Newlands hosted the first Test and, from my spot on the unforgiving concrete scholars’ benches at pitch-side, I clearly recall spotting Derek Quinnell’s early punch to Bok captain and hometown favourite Morne du Plessis, hugely bruising and near-closing one of his eyes.

But the rangy No 8 kept his composure admirably, the Boks producing the best of the attacking play for much of the contest, as reflected by a try count of 5-1.

The Lions, though, just wouldn’t lie down and Irish flyhalf Tony Ward - a just-flown-in addition to the party due to injury - kept ensuring they stayed in range on the scoreboard with his kicking proficiency: five penalties and a dropped goal.

South Africa left it late to ram in the vital nail to the Lions’ coffin, scrumhalf Divan Serfontein diving over after a fierce ruck almost exactly opposite where I was sitting.

The Boks would go on to win the series 3-1: thorough revenge for the events of ’74.  

South Africa 27 Australia 18 (World Cup), 1995

Having worked abroad for some two years to that point, I briefly returned on leave from Hong Kong to inhale a few days of seismic RWC 1995.

On the glorious winter’s day that marked the tournament opener, and seated behind the posts low down on the North Stand, I do admit to having taken my seat with an unusually lukewarm, uneasy feeling about the early post-isolation Boks.

It was still the tenure of Louis Luyt as SA Rugby supremo, and the arrogance of him (and certain others) about how dominating, in his recalcitrant view, the national team would have been during their apartheid isolation didn’t sit too well with me.

But the crowd that day so quickly coaxed me back, fulsomely, on-side.

The new anthem was sung heartily and emotionally by all around me - dispelling another preconceived fear - and Nelson Mandela given a quite delirious welcome as he waved a Bok cap at pitch-side before the match.

So the enormous, resurgent sense of national pride was my strongest recollection of the occasion ... even if the rugby wasn’t bad, either, and the result a hugely satisfying one to the vast majority of the sell-out crowd.

Pieter Hendriks’s waltz around David Campese for one majestic try was a high point, as was personally being almost within breathing distance when Joel Stransky dotted down.

South Africa 22 New Zealand 16, 2005

I just remember this as probably the most whole-hearted, tough-as-nails Test match I witnessed anywhere; compelling from start to finish and with some massive names on both sides.

The Boks, two years out from their RWC 2007 success, had Messrs Habana, Du Randt, Matfield, Burger, De Villiers … and New Zealand not too shabby either, with surnames like Carter, Umaga, Collins, McCaw and Woodcock.

The ding-dong tussle featured just one try apiece, a reflection of the crunching commitment on defence from both outfits - Jean de Villiers for the Boks and Rico Gear for the All Blacks.

But arguably the most enthralling feature was the mighty scrap between rival, no-surrender flankers Schalk Burger (possibly at the best phase then of his amazingly still active career, by my book) and the late Jerry Collins.

They simply flew at everything … including, of course, each other.

It was a considerable pleasure, then, for me to conduct a video interview with Burger for News24 in poignant, reverent tribute to his old adversary following his death in a car accident in France in 2015.

“We’ve lost one of the true warriors of rugby,” said Burger. “A real rugby man ... you knew Jerry was hunting you down, coming for you … hard as nails but also first man to come and have a beer with you.”

South Africa 28 Australia 10, 2014

A remarkably deceptive Rugby Championship score-line in what was really an absolute nail-biter for lengthy periods … but also the most fitting of Test-level farewells at Newlands to one of its favourite sons (and national captain) Jean de Villiers.

With no Tests scheduled at the ground for a 2015 season curtailed by World Cup requirements at the end of it, fiercely loyal WP/Stormers midfielder De Villiers already knew his ninth international at the venue would be his last, given his intention to quit Bok duty after the RWC.

But the game was in the balance virtually throughout, threatening to make it a damp-squib party for him - Australia had led 10-5 at the interval and anything was possible entering the key final 10 minutes or so.

The Boks, however, found one of their most famous heads of late steam, establishing some overdue rhythm to run in three tries in nine minutes.

Included, so dreamily, were two to De Villiers himself ... the second coming after the hooter at the left corner flag to even give SA the unlikely cherry on top of a bonus point as their fourth dot-down.

The popular figure, strolling the turf afterwards with his young daughters, was then ecstatically serenaded by his home faithful …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  jean de villiers  |  cape town  |  rugby


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