Rugby fans in Zimbabwe have been marking the 70th anniversary of Rhodesia’s 10-8 win over the All Blacks in Bulawayo in 1949.
Three days later, on July 30, the teams drew 3-3 in Salisbury. Rhodesia was re-named Zimbabwe after gaining independence from Britain in 1980, while the capital’s name was changed from Salisbury to Harare.
The jury is out on whether the games should be regarded as internationals, given Rhodesia were competing in South African provincial competition at the time and providing players to the Springboks. Indeed, two stars of the home-team’s victory, ‘Salty’ du Rand and Ryk van Schoor, would also represent South Africa in the Test series against the All Blacks.
On the surface, Rhodesia’s victory would appear to be one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport, and with the draw in their second meeting the hosts might even claim a “series victory.” But the team which competed in South African provincial competition was a very different proposition to the current Zimbabwe Sables national team, who are ranked 36th in the world.
Besides, it is doubtful the NZRFU would recognise the games as official Tests, given they did not even award caps against Argentina as recently as the 1970s. New Zealand sent the second-stringers north to take on the Rhodesians while the rest of the squad were preparing for the Test matches with South Africa.
The Springboks would win that series 4-0, prop Okey Geffin doing the damage with his boot as the All Blacks outscored their hosts four tries to three. Geffin was said to have perfected his goal-kicking skills while a POW during WWII.
Meanwhile, the free-running Rhodesians took a 10-0 lead against Fred Allen’s tourists in Bulawayo, winger JA Brink and flanker Claude James getting across for tries. New Zealand struck back through winger Eric Boggs and halfback WJM Conrad, but a missed conversion proved the difference.
Regardless of the status of this match, 1949 was certainly an “annus horribilis” for New Zealand rugby. While the South African tour was still in progress, an entirely different All Blacks team was beaten 2-0 at home by Australia.
In fact, they lost two Tests on the same day – the first against the Wallabies in Wellington, and the third against the Springboks in Durban.
Fast forward seven decades, and as New Zealand and South Africa were battling to a 16-all draw in Wellington on Saturday, Zimbabwe played Uganda in Victoria Cup competition in Kampala, winning 31-26. The tournament, revived this year after the collapse of the African championships, also involves Kenya and Zambia.
Those two teams were in action on Saturday, the former running out 43-23 winners after leading 20-13 at halftime. Zimbabwe and Kenya now have two wins apiece, while Uganda and Zambia have both suffered two defeats. The latter are considered rank outsiders, having played in the African second division last year, then lost the playoff for promotion with Algeria.
Incidentally, the venue for the weekend’s match with Kenya was Kitwe, scene of an All Blacks’ victory over a Rhodesian XV in 1960. It was New Zealand’s only match ever in Northern Rhodesia – today the nation of Zambia.
Elsewhere at the weekend, Ivory Coast defeated hosts Ghana 22-12 in the opening game of the West African Rugby (WAR) championships on Sunday. The 1995 World Cup qualifiers are heavy favourites to take out the inaugural Tri-Nations series, which also involves Nigeria.
That’s it for the international action, though in South Africa’s Currie Cup first division the Jaguares development team continued their unbeaten run with a 54-15 demolition of Eastern Province in Port Elizabeth.
Flyhalf Hugo Miotti contributed 17 points with a try and six conversions, while halfback Gonzalo Bertranou scored a brace. This was the fourth win in a row for the Argentinians, who led 26-10 at the break and now sit five points clear at the top of the table.
Across the border in Botswana, the national club final was played out on Sunday. Gaborone Hoggs beat cross-town rivals BDF Cheetahs 27-17 in the final.