The Miracle of Bulawayo

Harry Jones Roar Guru

By Harry Jones, Harry Jones is a Roar Guru

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    New Zealand’s rugby team can seem unbeatable at times. For many nations, that is literally true.

    Two of the Home Nations, Scotland and Ireland, have never beaten the All Blacks. Argentina plays New Zealand at least twice a year now, and every time they line up, they are chasing their maiden win.

    With the exception of South Africa, France, England, and Australia, most teams know they will never beat New Zealand.

    But there is an All Black scalp in Bulawayo. It was taken on the 27th of July in 1949.

    Bulawayo is the second largest city in Zimbabwe. The name Bulawayo comes from the SiNdebele word “KoBulawayo” which means “a place where he is being killed.” known as the City of Kings.

    Situated in the southwest, on the pathway between Harare and its large southern neighbour, the city is currently the hotbed of opposition to the oppressive government of Robert Mugabe.

    Sanitation is struggling – there was even a cholera outbreak recently, and water is in short supply. It is a high place, and even though it lies in the tropics, their winters are dry and cool.

    And in this place, the All Blacks were beaten by then Rhodesia. The score was 10-8. That is what the books say. That is a fact.

    Also, it should be pointed out that Rhodesia was at that time a ‘province’ for purposes of South African rugby, and their players aspired to play for South Africa.

    Still, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe has beaten the All Blacks.

    How did that happen?

    New Zealand was led on tour by Fred Allen, who had too many challenges to overcome, and wound up winning only 14 of the 25 matches played (four were draws), including an 0-4 whitewash during the four Tests against the Springboks.

    Allen and his team sailed on a tiny ship without space to train, they were without top class Maori players due to South Africa’s racial policies, their hot and dusty itinerary using local transportation was punishing, and it must be said, some very dodgy ruck refereeing.

    To be fair, Allen was also forced to be de facto coach and manager, as both were elderly and in poor health.

    But the tours in those days had similar complaints for all sides. When the Boks went to New Zealand, the sagas were also replete with incredibly arduous sea and train voyages, muddy roads and fields, extreme cold, and odd referee decisions.

    But back to Bulawayo. After losing the first Test to South Africa in Cape Town (15-11), the Kiwi tourists took a 26-hour train ride to Johannesburg to play (and beat) Transvaal (13-3). The night of that game, they boarded another train to Bulawayo, and arrived over 24 hours later. A side trip to Victoria Falls (by train) cost them a couple of days of training, and then they played Rhodesia on Wednesday afternoon, 27 July, 1949.

    Rhodesia scored two tries against the All Blacks. To put that in perspective, only seven tries were scored against the visitors in the entire 1949 tour.

    The All Blacks were surprised by the dash of the Rhodesians, who played a different, open, and attacking brand, distinct from the safety-first South African teams.

    The Rhodesians wore hooped jerseys; the All Blacks in their traditional all dark uniforms.

    Two Rhodesian players, the big, fast flanker Salty du Rand and centre Ryk van Schoor, in particular bedevilled New Zealand’s attack, which relied on penetration in the midfield, through aggressive but straightforward running by the inside centre.

    Crashball specialist Van Schoor tackled the All Black centres so effectively in the backfield that the entire attack was crippled. New Zealand’s loose forwards did not get to the breakdown in Bulawayo in time.

    A New Zealand reporter wrote afterwards: “There is no doubt about it, the Rhodesians deserved to win the game and what is more, the All Blacks themselves were unstinted in their praise for the type of football played by their opponents. There was plenty of movement, and if there was one thing the All Blacks did appreciate, it was the fact that the Rhodesians attempted to score tries.”

    Both du Rand and Van Schoor were picked for the second Test between New Zealand and South Africa. Van Schoor, who was living in Rhodesia to seek his fortune as a tobacco farmer, went to play for the Springboks twelve times. He was one of the most feared tacklers in rugby.

    New Zealand player Bob Scott called Van Schoor’s defensive abilities “amazing” and wrote: “If you saw a cloud of dust rising from midfield like an atom-bomb cloud, you knew Van Schoor was at work. He was big and strong and nerveless.”

    On that day in Bulawayo, Rhodesia played a balanced game, the forwards were fit for 80 minutes and linked with the backs. The first try was scored on cross kick from flyhalf to wing. The second was scored from a steal by a prop, who passed to a flanker named Claude Jones, who scored on a breakaway.

    New Zealand scored two tries in their comeback attempt, but failed to convert from the corner and Rhodesia hung on for a famous victory.

    To prove it was not a fluke, Rhodesia drew 3-3 with the All Blacks three days later in Salisbury (Harare).

    Will something like this ever happen again?

    Have Your Say



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    The Crowd Says (117)

    • July 10th 2014 @ 4:49am
      Chivas said | July 10th 2014 @ 4:49am | ! Report

      Munster did

      • July 10th 2014 @ 4:58am
        Harry Jones said | July 10th 2014 @ 4:58am | ! Report

        You are right!

        12-0 on Oct 31 1978.

        • July 10th 2014 @ 12:08pm
          kiwi said | July 10th 2014 @ 12:08pm | ! Report

          Stu Wilson (captain for the day) said we were lucky to get nil!

      • July 10th 2014 @ 12:37pm
        The Battered Slav said | July 10th 2014 @ 12:37pm | ! Report

        As did the little sospan in 1972.

        Llanelli 9 All Blacks 3.

    • July 10th 2014 @ 5:49am
      Emric said | July 10th 2014 @ 5:49am | ! Report

      Why do you take so much pleasure in us kiwis losing?

      • July 10th 2014 @ 8:59am
        Harry Jones said | July 10th 2014 @ 8:59am | ! Report

        I support NZ against every team except SA. Just found this story interesting as I compile research for a book on rugby.

        • July 10th 2014 @ 10:07am
          Ralph said | July 10th 2014 @ 10:07am | ! Report

          Great effort Mr Jones.

          • July 10th 2014 @ 3:41pm
            Harry Jones said | July 10th 2014 @ 3:41pm | ! Report

            Thanks, Ralph.

    • July 10th 2014 @ 6:18am
      The V Man said | July 10th 2014 @ 6:18am | ! Report

      Well done Rhodesia! That is a far better ratio than Australia…..hee hee.

    • July 10th 2014 @ 6:28am
      Johnno said | July 10th 2014 @ 6:28am | ! Report

      Nice story. On a side note I was very impressed with Zimbabwe V Kenya. They dominated Kenya, who many tipped to win. Zims are higher ranked than Kenya, there set piece was excellent and alot of there blokes had Currie Cup,Vodacom Cup,and a few super rugby experience. Technically very good, Still can’t believe how Namibia racked up 89-10 vs Madagasscar in Madasscasar to qyalify. They needed 50 to qualify I thought they’d rack up 25-30 but not an 80 point massacare. I watched the IRB feed for free, Hugh Bladen called the game, now Zimbabwe have a reparcharge game vs Russia in Siberia to qualify, with the winner taking on Uruguay V HK.
      No chance Zims winning in Siberia.

      • July 10th 2014 @ 8:48am
        Sailosi said | July 10th 2014 @ 8:48am | ! Report

        What were Zim doing?

      • July 10th 2014 @ 9:01am
        Harry Jones said | July 10th 2014 @ 9:01am | ! Report

        It would be great to be able to say you won a game in Siberia. Go Zim!

        • July 10th 2014 @ 5:54pm
          Chan Wee said | July 10th 2014 @ 5:54pm | ! Report

          no chance . when Russia were in Asian qualifiers one time Sri lanka had to play them in Siberia. they just culd not catch the ball !!!

          going from a tropical / temperate climate to the freezing cold is hell. they are just not acclamatized. reverse is not as bad if u can tolerate the extra sweat.

      • July 10th 2014 @ 3:33pm
        Johnno said | July 10th 2014 @ 3:33pm | ! Report

        Zims beat Kenya on the weekend in the World cup African qualifiers in Madagascar.

    • July 10th 2014 @ 7:11am
      moaman said | July 10th 2014 @ 7:11am | ! Report

      Nice write-up Harry.
      This came up in a quiz I attended a few months ago–I wish you had timed your article a little better!!!!
      That travel itinerary has to be examined more closely to be appreciated. 26 hours in a hot,dusty train,a tough match and repeat—-if you told the young people today about that they wouldn’t believe you! 😉

      • July 10th 2014 @ 9:02am
        Harry Jones said | July 10th 2014 @ 9:02am | ! Report

        Cheers, Moaman. And then their side trip to the Victoria Falls sounded like hell on a train. Those tours were incredible.

    • July 10th 2014 @ 7:24am
      Mike said | July 10th 2014 @ 7:24am | ! Report

      Thanks Harry, great story.

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