Thinking and talking about rugby every day for 50+ years
23 October 2014
The things you find at home all these years later. While rummaging through some family shots I came across this picture I took from the commentary scaffold at what was then Buckhurst Park in Suva, Fiji. It shows the Fiji and British Isles teams coming onto the field before the playing of the last game of the Lions 26 match tour of New Zealand and Fiji in 1977. I think the high aspect of the shot might make it unique to Fiji rugby history. The scaffold was so rickety no photographers were allowed on it. This was the day Fiji's national team scored perhaps their most famous home victory. Fiji won 25-21. They could be rightly proud of course but it is true the Lions did not approach the fixture with true dedication. I can still recall their poolside party raging on and keeping me awake 16 hours before kickoff!
Great Britain beat NZ 6-3 in the first of a four test series. From Carisbrook in Dunedin a local 4YA staff member Alfred Laurie Canter was the commentator.
Headquarters for the game of rugby in Samoa. Apia Park is a ground with a colourful past. Just as Twickenham in London was once a market garden, and cabbages were grown at Lancaster Park in Christchurch during World War I, Apia Park in the capital city of Samoa was once a horse racing track and a golf course.
Situated close to the city, the ground was originally owned by the occupying German Government. The first horse racing was held on Kaiser Wilhelm II’s birthday in 1910. Later, Chinese, Melanesian and Samoan labourers ploughed the swampy land, aided by oxen-drawn carts. They levelled an inner field and plans for rugby were drawn up. The locals did not worry that a large, shady tree was left intact on what was to be inside the field of play.
Horse racing died out in 1939. The first rugby game on the park was in 1924 when an Apia Selection played a Pago Pago Naval XV. Apia won 33-0. During the same year a Fijian team on its way to play Tonga stopped in Apia. Its two games against the locals were split one win each. It is not recorded how the teams coped with playing around the tree!
These days the rebuilt ground, with its superb backdrop of palm trees and other native flora and fauna, must be one of the prettiest in the world.
Apia Park has always been a highly significant place for sport in Samoa. In 1991 before the advent of a home TV network, crowds used to come to the ground and sit for hours overnight waiting to watch on an imported giant TV screen the matches of (Western) Samoa at the World Cup in Britain.
For years the field was also used as a golf course, but in 1975 the inherent dangers of people walking near such a course led them to shift to a new venue, at the Royal Samoan Golf Club. Only then for the first time could rugby truly claim the grounds.
In 2007, Apia Park was one of the main venues for the 2007 Pacific Games. In 2015 it will play host many events at the Youth Commonwealth Games, the opening and closing ceremonies. It will also host the All Blacks from New Zealand for a much anticipated game against Manu Samoa. The ground has a capacity of 15,000.
Who was the New Zealand test cricketer who played one rugby test for England?