Boks the ‘ultimate’ rival: Robertson

Duncan Robertson. Photo: ODT files
Duncan Robertson. Photo: ODT files
The All Blacks-Springboks rivalry will turn 100 on Saturday but the edges of the friendly conflict remain as sharp as ever, former All Black Duncan Robertson says.

Robertson played 10 tests for the All Blacks from 1974 to 1977.

The 74-year-old played most of his 104 games for Otago at second five but his opportunity at international level came at first five and fullback.

He impressed on the tour of Australia in 1974 and was selected for the 1976 tour of South Africa.

New Zealand lost the fiercely competitive series 3-1.

‘‘I just remember it being really, really tough,’’ he said yesterday.

In those days, tours were much more of a commitment. The All Blacks were in the Republic for the best part of three months and played 24 games. They won 18 of them but the six losses still sting 45 years on.

‘‘We failed, that’s what it was.

‘‘We were probably expected to do better than we did but it was pretty hard when referees were making dubious calls.’’

The fairness of the officiating emerged as a strong narrative from the the tour. But it was not the only towering hurdle. The tour schedule was punishing.

‘‘We trained at 10 in the morning and again at 2 in the afternoon. I just remember it felt like we were going from the seaside up to the high veldt every second Saturday.

‘‘That is how it seemed anyway and you’d be gasping for bloody air,’’ Robertson said.

While the rivalry against England and Australia has grown, and the All Blacks’ recent dominance against South Africa has arguably diluted the rivalry, he still feels games against South Africa carry extra weight.

‘‘I think it is the pinnacle of All Black rugby when you play a test against South Africa. It is the ultimate.

‘‘There is no quarter given and that wouldn’t have changed. But off the field the players were pretty good buggers. They really were.’’

Robertson did not play in the only test the All Blacks won on the tour, so his highlight came from a midweek game against the Quagga-Barbarians.

‘‘With 20 minutes to go, people were leaving the ground and we were down 31-13 or something. So we decided let’s just run it because we’ve got nothing to lose and we ended up beating them 32-31.’’

A couple of opponents from that tour stick out for Robertson. Winger Johannes Germishuys had electric pace and wonderful agility, and first five Gerald Bosch was a prolific scorer.

Robertson’s team-mate on that tour, Laurie Mains, has offered a more brutal assessment on the state of South African rugby ahead of the centenary game.

Mains, who later coached the All Blacks from 1992 to 1995, told Newstalk ZB the world champions ‘‘are not the team we’ve known’’.

‘‘Many South African teams that have been of lesser quality than the All Blacks have beaten them in the past,’’ he said.

‘‘They can rise and become a very, very difficult opponent.

‘‘Having said that, in today’s rugby environment and the referees making sure that people can’t slow ball down and be obstructive outside the laws of the game, it means that the All Blacks will still be able to play the style of rugby they want to play and that’ll be too much for South Africa.

‘‘This is not the same team that won the World Cup. Let’s be very clear on that.

‘‘They’ve lost a number of their players who have headed off overseas playing or retired. They’re nowhere near the team they were when they played in the World Cup two years ago.’’

The Springboks will be smarting after back-to-back losses to Australia. They have also been leapfrogged by the All Blacks at the top of World Rugby standings.

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