Thinking and talking about rugby every day for 50+ years
You are here: Home » Looking back on a great day for Fiji Rugby
23 October 2014
Finding an old photograph of Fiji's national rugby team coming out to play Phil Bennett's 1977 Lions in Suva has brought back many memories of being at the ground that day on August 16 1977. [Click on 'Favourite Photos' on this page] Myself and Nigel Starmer-Smith of the BBC were the only broadcasters there that day. We were positioned high up on the most rickety scaffolding you ever saw. We were both frightened a number of times when it swayed noticably when the wind gusts blew in off the nearby sea.
[One other point about the broadcasts I can recall is that we could hear from our high tower position the raised and excitable voice below of the local radio-man Graham Eden. Our producer Fred Szydlik remarked memorably that 'the Fiji people didn't need a transmitter to hear Graham's call; there's no doubt he could be heard miles away!' Graham has become a good friend over the years. We still see each other regularly on the road and remind ourselves of that great day.]
For a complete ego trip; here is what I wrote about the Fiji v British Isles game in my book of that tour; the un-memorably named - 'Lions '77' The book recorded a tough tour conducted by the Lions in mostly wet and muddy conditions with the Lions growing increasingly sad as their hopes of beating the Tane Norton-led All Blacks diminished by the week.
One place the 1977 Lions did really enjoy was Fiji. The relief of getting out of New Zealand, plus the warmth and welcome of the Fijian people (and of course the sunshine) convinced the team that this was the most enjoyable stop of the tour. 'This is the life,' said Charlie Faulkner relaxing beside the hotel pool, 'next time the Lions come down under they should play 26 games in Fiji and one in New Zealand!' That was said in Faulkner's nicest manner, for he was one who was reluctant to head home, his three weeks on tour (as a replacement) clearing giving him a taste for more.
There was a good deal of light-hearted banter as to who would play the game against Fiji. 'It'll be the first fifteen names out of the hat,' coach John Dawes joked at one point, but in the end he bowed to injury worries and the strength of the Fiji team and released a team which included eight of his fourth test team which had lost so narrowly to New Zealand only four days earlier in Auckland.
The local hospitality was something else and in the Lions state of relieved euphoria, having rid themselves of all New Zealanders (except me I suppose; I was the only Kiwi reporter there) they settled down to relaxing and some big public drinking sessions. 'We lost a day here somewhere,' said manager George Burrell to the aftermatch crowd. He was not referring to crossing the dateline or losing his calendar.
Sixteen members of the team went out one night, including some British pressmen, and ran up a bill of $700 [Note; I would guess about $2500nz in today's money]. 'The food was nice,' Irishman Moss Keane recalled the next day, 'ah but the wine was terrific,' and he rolled his eyes back into his head in satisfied reverie.
When the party returned to the hotel, Moss was ceremonially thrown into the swimming pool, clothes and all. 'And as I can't swim,' he said,' I got into immediate difficulties.' But with pulling and boisterous late night teamwork he was hauled out and the festivities raged on. This happened on the Monday night, only 16 hours before the team was to play the might of Fijian rugby, in rampant and hungry mood, at Suva's Buckhurst Park.
The Lions attitude and devotion to winning in Fiji was not all it might have been. Not that it mattered. The next afternoon when Fiji beat 'The Famous Lions,' as they were billed, by 25-21, it was one of the most exciting and enthralling sporting occasions I have witnessed. For a start there was the crowd: all 20,000 of them drummed into a ferment of excitement, because Fiji who had beaten Tonga in a recent three-test series, had a great chance of winning.
It was a also truly colourful sight. The ground is back-dropped by waving coconut palms and the Pacific Ocean; and the playing pitch all year round is as hard as a rock.
Fiji ran the ball at every opportunity and deserved their win. They scored 5 tries (worth 4 points then), some of them thrilling and all containing excellent authority in their execution.
To their credit the Lions contributed fully to the spectacle, not for any great running moves - they were more content to kick for position than spin the ball, but for the way they contributed to the spirit of the occasion.
In the scoring the Lions drew up to 21-all but then Vuato Narisia, the flanker, took a pass from his captain, Pio Bosco Tikoisuva, and dived, like an Olympic swimmer off the blocks, for the winning try. The noise was deafening and the clamour loud and rapturous; the score enabled Fiji to score its first-ever win over a major touring team.
As the players left the field, Fiji's famed Police Band played 'Isa Lei' the Fijian farewell song, and then 'Now is The Hour'. The Lions team boarded the windowless vehicle still in their playing gear, and as they were driven down a dusty road out of the Park the emotion of the day reached its climax. The happy crowd pushed towards the slow-moving bus, the Lions waved and shook hands by the hundreds, and then the band struck up 'Will Ye No Come Back Again?'
Nobody in the touring party seemed to mind losing, as the Fijian's delight was infectious. It was interesting to me though that the fact that the (local) referee had failed to whistle some dreadfully obvious forward passes and had blown a penalty count of 22-4 against the Lions seemed quickly forgotten.
Two All Black tests on the same day? Correct!
In Wellington NZ's a second team loses 11-6 to the Wallabies. 12 hours later in Durban the 'A' NZ team loses 9-3 to SA. A unique but disasterous day for NZ rugby!
Counties and New Zealand
35 internationals for New Zealand 1977–85
In his time he was New Zealand’s most-capped hooker, Dalton was also the son of an All Black vice-captain (Ray Dalton in 1949).
Andy Dalton did not make his debut for New Zealand until he was 26, but thereafter maintained his place until the World Cup in 1987, when bad luck hit his cup aspirations.
After being named as New Zealand’s captain for the series, he was struck down by a hamstring muscle injury and did not play. Instead, he watched as his replacement, Sean Fitzpatrick, took over and established himself as one of the top players of the series. Even after he had recovered, Dalton could not win back his place in the New Zealand team. He was reserve for the last three matches.
At the start of his career Dalton became New Zealand’s hooker in 1977, taking over from Tane Norton, who had previously played 27 consecutive internationals in that position. Dalton played 35 tests, so only a handful of players played test matches in the No. 2 jersey for the All Blacks over a period of 20 years.
In the absence of Graham Mourie in 1981, Andy Dalton became New Zealand’s test captain for the controversial series against the Springboks. He soon built a reputation as an excellent leader on the field and a diplomatic and sincere one off it. There were many in New Zealand who felt that when Mourie returned later in 1981 Dalton should have continued as captain.
Dalton again took over the leadership after Mourie retired, and captained the team for the test series against the 1983 British Isles, the All Blacks beating the Lions comfortably by four tests to nil. Apart from the times he declared himself unavailable, Dalton maintained the captaincy until the end of his playing days, leading his country in 17 tests for 15 wins.
He was named captain of the New Zealand team to tour South Africa in 1985 but, when that tour was cancelled following court action, he was denied the chance to follow in his father’s footsteps and play in an All Black team in South Africa.
In 1986 Dalton joined the rebel Cavaliers tour of South Africa as the tour captain and it would be true to say that his involvement in the secrecy surrounding the setting up of the tour, and his association with it, cost him something in terms of public acceptance and popularity.
On their return home, Dalton and the other Cavaliers were banned by the NZRFU for two test matches, a decision which arguably did not affect Dalton as he was out with injury anyway – from a badly broken jaw received on the tour.
Andy Dalton played a significant role in New Zealand rugby, as a forerunner in embracing the style of a busy loose forward, without neglecting the tight forward play of a hooker. He was an expert striker for the ball in scrums and an accurate thrower to the lineouts. He was the first New Zealand hooker to become the lineout thrower. Before Dalton, that job was done by wings.
Dalton was one of the All Black front row trio – together with props John Ashworth and Gary Knight – to be nicknamed the ‘Geriatrics’. They played their first test match together in 1978 and their last in 1985 – 20 tests in all.
In the years after his playing days Andy Dalton has played a significant role as the Chief Executive Officer of the Blues professional rugby franchise.
Piri Weepu played 71 tests for the All Blacks; how many times did he play for the full 80 minutes?