Hamilton’s rugby wars – Roadside Stories

Hamilton’s rugby wars – Roadside Stories

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[Rugby commentator — crowd cheering] Time
is registered on the board now as van Vollenhoven throws in five yards inside Waikato’s 25. Up they
go, it’s on the ground. It comes to Gentles he can’t get it. And it’s kicked away and that’s the
end of the game! Waikato have defeated the South Africans by 14 points to 10. Now listen
to this crowd! [Cow noise] [Narrator] Previously known as Rugby Park,
Waikato Stadium has been the site of famous and infamous scenes involving touring South
African rugby teams. Rugby was first played in Hamilton in 1874.
Dairy farming and rugby became a way of life in the Waikato and in the 1950s a dairy cow
called Mooloo became the provincial team’s mascot. The team is still nicknamed ‘the Mooloos’
and Waikato fans ring cowbells at its games. Waikato rugby fans are famously fanatical,
which was demonstrated during the opening game of the South African tour in 1956. The
pre-match parade attracted 20,000 people including bands, marching girls, and people dressed
up as African animals. The Springboks were impressed with the display of ‘Mooloo fever’. [Springbok coach (actor with Afrikaans accent)]
If I had been a man from Mars and dropped down into your main street, I would have said
without hesitation that it was the dumping ground for the lunatics of the world. If this
is rugby madness give us more of it. [Narrator] 30,000 people crammed into Rugby
Park so see Waikato beat the Springboks 14–10. The Mooloos were the only provincial team
to beat the South Africans during the ’56 tour. In line with tradition, after the game,
the South Africans presented their provincial conquerors with the head of a springbok antelope. Playing full-back for Waikato that day, and
scoring a decisive eight points, was full-back Don Clarke. Standing nearly two metres tall,
‘The Boot’ as he was nicknamed, had a huge kick and was drafted into the All Blacks for
the third test, again scoring 8 points in the All Blacks 17–10 win. Don had four brothers
who also played rugby and on one occasion in 1961 all five played in a game for Waikato.
The boys used to practice on the family dairy farm, with brother Ian, an All black prop,
packing down against fence-posts, and Don practising his kicking in the paddocks. Twenty-five years later, in 1981, another
Springbok team visited Rugby Park, but in very different circumstances. The country
was divided over the issue of sporting contacts with apartheid South Africa, and thousands
of people in New Zealand protested against the Springbok tour. Inside a packed Rugby Park, the fanatical
Waikato rugby fans were hoping for a repeat of their team’s historic 1956 win. But anti-apartheid
protestors outside the stadium had different ideas. The protestors pulled down a wire fence
and about 350 made it onto the pitch just before the start of the game. They formed
a close huddle and chanted ‘the whole world is watching’. And they were. An hour-long standoff between police and protestors,
as well as reports that an unauthorised plane was heading for the ground, prompted the police
to call off the game. Opponents of apartheid watching the incredible scene live on television
in South Africa say that it was a vital moment in the struggle against apartheid. Nelson
Mandela later said that when the news reached him in Robben Island prison, it was ‘as if
the sun had come out’. But the cancellation made the Waikato rugby
fans furious. Some were calling for the police to ‘get into the bastards’ and others pelted
the protestors, who were escorted off the field by police after the game was cancelled,
with bottles, cans and even a pair of binoculars. Later there was unprecedented violence as
irate rugby fans took revenge, even attacking an ambulance containing injured protestors. Though the afternoon was a frustrating one
for rugby fans, for the anti-apartheid movement, Hamilton’s Rugby Park was the site of the
greatest victory of the tour.

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