Thinking and talking about rugby every day for 50+ years
9 December 2015
Golly! Turning back the clock today! Martin Devlin of Radio Sport in New Zealand has just had me on-air on his programme asking for memories of the first ever 'Grand Slam win' by an All Blacks team in the United Kingdom. I gave him my best based on using notes from my 'Encyclopedia of World Rugby' published in the 1990s (and updated here) concerning which southern hemisphere countries had done best at this unique achievement. Read on here;
South Africa's Springboks achieved the most impressive Grand Slam feats of all beating all five teams on its UK and France tours of 1912–13 and 1951–52. New Zealand and Australia have not ever done that.
And in 1960–61 the Springboks beat the four United Kingdom teams but drew with France, and in 1931–32 it beat the four UK teams but did not play France. So South Africa kind of lead the way here I think you might agree.
The All Blacks did not win their first Grand Slam against British and Irish countries until 1978, under the captaincy of Graham Mourie. But that team did not play France on that tour. The ‘Invincibles’ New Zealand team of 1924–25 also won four internationals, including against France, but did not play Scotland. The 1967 All Blacks (Brian Lochore's team) also won four internationals but did not play Ireland.
At the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa the All Blacks won a 'World Cup Grand Slam' beating Ireland and Wales in pool play; Scotland in a quarter-final and England in a semi-final. No other team has done that.
The All Blacks have also won Grand Slams in 2005 (captain Tana Umaga), 2008 and 2010 (both under Richie McCaw). Those ones do not include games v France. But still that means NZ have four 'UK Grand Slams.' Sadly since 2010 the world of rugby officialdom and marketing have not allowed the All Blacks to attempt any more 'GS's".
Australia won its only Grand Slam against all four 'Home' countries in 1984. They did not play France.
Australia had a 'Grand Slam of defeats' on their 1957-58 tour, losing all five games including against France. But their 1947-48 team had another unique Grand Slam; That team did not win all four internationals but in their four games, win or lose, they did not have their try-line crossed.
In terms of UK Grand Slams among the English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish and French teams, perhaps the England effort of 1928 deserves to be called the greatest, when it beat all the other teams in the Five Nations championship as well as the 1928 season’s touring team, the famous ‘Waratahs’ of New South Wales." Well done England!
Jack Manchester's All Blacks are beaten 13-0 by England at Twickenham, with the Russian Prince Alexander Obolensky as a winger, dashing in for 2 tries.
Hawke’s Bay, East Coast and New Zealand
9 internationals for New Zealand 1924–30
A legendary figure in a legendary team, the 1924 ‘Invincible’ All Blacks. Only 19 at the time, George Nepia played all 38 matches during that gruelling tour of Australia, Britain, Ireland, France and Canada.
British sides were unstinting in their praise of Nepia, the rock on whom so many of their attacks foundered. His courage under the high ball and in repelling foot rushes, the crunching certainty of his tackling and the strength of his spiraled line kicking – all of these combined to restrict opposition teams to no more than 180 points against the All Blacks in the 38 games.
Nepia could also run with the ball. He had started his first-class career as a wing, then a five-eighth, before outstanding fullback displays in 1924 resulted in his being chosen as the only last line of defence. Early in the tour of Britain he made a sizzling run, but the dictatorial Mark Nicholls told him to leave the running to his five-eighths and three-quarters: his job was to defend. It was not until the 37th match of the tour, in Canada, that Nepia scored his first try!
A bogus telegram which advised the selectors of Nepia’s ‘unavailability’ cost him a place with the New Zealand Maoris’ trend-setting tour to Britain in 1927, and his All Black career finished after the 1930 home series against the British Isles. After a temporary retirement, Nepia returned to bid for a place with the 1935–36 All Blacks to tour Britain but was surprisingly not selected, though then playing as well as at any time of his career.
With his financial security in tatters at the end of the Depression, Nepia readily accepted the lure of rugby league money and played two seasons in England, and then for New Zealand. Reinstated to rugby in what was then called the ‘war-time amnesty’ which allowed rugby league professionals to return without recrimination to the amateur rugby union, Nepia played for East Coast in 1947, and in 1950 captained the Olympians club in a first-class fixture against Poverty Bay. George Nepia, father and son, were the fullbacks and captains on this historic day, George senior being 45 years old at the time.
He became an active referee and many spectators went to games just to watch Nepia referee, rather than see the two teams doing battle.
In which New Zealand Rugby Province was the Ranfurly Shield resident for the longest duration of time?