This year marks 100 years since New Zealand first officially met South Africa on a rugby field, cementing one of the greatest rivalries the rugby world has ever known. In his new book Brutal: The 100-year fight for world rugby supremacy, historian and rugby writer Ron Palenski puts this see-sawing rivalry under the spotlight.
Thanks to Upstart Press and Notable PR, we’ve got a copy of Brutal: The 100-year fight for world rugby supremacy to giveaway. Just email email@example.com with your name and you’re in the draw. Don’t forget to include ‘Brutal giveaway’ in your subject line. Get your entries in by 23 July. Good luck!
Read an edited extract from the book below:
One of the All Blacks walked off the field after playing against the Springboks for the first time and remarked, with a mixture of wonder and awe, that they were the biggest and hardest players he had confronted in his career. ‘Man, they were hard,’ he said. This was in 1981, but it could have been said by any All Black at any time about any South African team. And perhaps it could have been said in reverse.
It was this hardness, this toughness, that made the South Africans so challenging to beat and what made a win against them all the more worthwhile. From the first time the two countries met on a rugby field, unofficially during the First World War and officially in New Zealand in 1921, one of sport’s most intense rivalries was born. The fact the first two series between the Springboks and All Blacks were drawn was testimony to that; so too the fact that at the end of the amateur era in the mid-1990s, the two countries were almost even in win-loss-draw ratios.
The All Blacks and the Springboks have been an enduring rivalry, perhaps the greatest over a sustained period of time (and with due acknowledgement to the northern hemisphere countries) in rugby.
One of the determining factors in the relationship was the extra layer brought by South Africa’s flawed system of separate development that the world came to know as apartheid.
No other sporting rivalry has had this added dimension. Had South Africa been one of rugby’s ‘minnows’, as those of lesser ability used to be called until it was unfashionable to do so, New Zealand and other countries would have walked away. The International Rugby Board would likely have tossed South Africa out, as did the International Olympic Committee and various international sporting bodies.
But it was the quality of South African rugby that ensured everyone, and especially New Zealand, still wanted to play with them, even when it wasn’t wise or prudent to do so. The 1905–06 All Blacks captain, Dave Gallaher, who had played rugby in South Africa when he was there as a mounted trooper, saw early the value of South African rugby: ‘There is something about the climate and the country that makes one feel instinctively that here is a place where Rugby football would thrive if it would anywhere in the world.’
Brutal by Ron Palenski ($37.99 RRP, Upstart Press). Out now.