Sunday, July 6, 2008


19-8, the final score in last night's rugby test between
the All Blacks and the Springboks, is an evocative
scoreline for me. It takes me back to July 31, 1956,
when as a nine-year-old boy I was among the crowd
at Solway Showgrounds, Masterton, to see the touring
Springboks play Wairarapa-Bush. It was a Tuesday,
but schools had been let out for the afternoon, such
was the importance of the occasion. Local excitement
was intense, and pride all the greater when we held the
visitors to a comparatively respectable 19-8 win (they
had been beating other provincial sides by much wider
margins). Naturally I identified with their captain,
Denis Ackerman (as I did, much more intensely, with
the English cricketer Denis Compton). On the South
Africans' long tour of New Zealand we had grown used
to names such as Muller, Strydom and van Vollenhoven.
There were no blacks in the team. It wasn't an issue. No
one gave it a thought. It was 1956, perhaps the very peak
of postwar prosperity, prejudice and conformism; the
last year, pre-Suez, when the writ of the fading British
Empire still ran unchallenged in the Wairarapa and the
Witwatersrand. The total number of unemployed in the
country was five. Child abuse was unrecognized. Not the
slightest inkling of apartheid clouded the day.

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