Springboks out to extend proud record of PE wins
Over the years a succession of Springbok coaches have relished visiting “Fortress Nelson Mandela Bay” where SA have become invincible in recent times.
Few disagree with Zwide - born Springbok captain Siya Kolisi when he proudly says the Bay is the spiritual home of South African rugby.
But is not only the superb win ratio and its fanatical supporters that make the venue special.
The oval ball code has a rich history in the Bay dating back to 1891 and PE is the vibrant home of black rugby.
Since 1960 the Boks have only lost once in 21 Tests played at the old Boet Erasmus Stadium and the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
It is a marvellous record and Bok coach Rassie Erasmus will be looking to extend SA’s unbeaten record to six matches at the NMB Stadium on Saturday when they face Australia.
The new generation of Bok backline stars like Aphiwe Dyantyi, Jesse Kriel and Cheslin Kolbe will be keen to write their names into the history books.
Erasmus, who was born in Despatch outside Port Elizabeth, has a close affinity with the Eastern Cape.
He took his players to watch the Southern Kings beat Glasgow Warriors in a PRO14 clash at NMU’s Madibaz Stadium.
Erasmus was hailed as hero inside the stadium and a section of the crowd chanted his name as he sipped a soft drink in a VIP Suite.
Bok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick also hails from PE and played for Eastern Province and the Blitzboks.
“I am a home boy and Port Elizabeth has been a special place since 2009 when we opened the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium,” Stick said.
“The Boks have not lost a game here and have only drawn against England.
“So I have been there on the stands as a supporter and in the coaching box. So it is good to be back in Port Elizabeth.”
Stick played for the Southern Kings when they took on the British and Irish Lions in the opening game at the NMB Stadium in 2009.
The Wallabies have played only two Tests in Port Elizabeth, losing both.
Both games were played at the Boet Erasmus Stadium, with SA winning 23-11 in 1961 and 22-6 in 1963.
However, things were not quite so good for the Boks before rugby moved to the Boet Erasmus Stadium from the Crusaders Ground.
Ten Springbok Test matches were played at the Crusaders Ground (St George’s Park), and 16 at the Boet Erasmus before international rugby in the city found a new home at the NMB Stadium.
At Crusaders the Boks lost three of the 10 games they played. The opening Test at the Boet Erasmus was won 18-10 by the Boks against a Scotland team making their first tour of SA.
The Boet Erasmus was to become home to Test rugby in the city until 2011 when the first Test was played at the new NMB Stadium.
The Springboks used the Scottish Test at Boet Erasmus to blood a young team for a visit later in the year by Wilson Whineray's mighty All Blacks.
For the PE Test several new caps were selected, including players who would become icons of the game like Jannie Engelbrecht, Doug Hopwood, John Gainsford, Hugo van Zyl and Dave Stewart.
The game was not a great showpiece, mainly because Scottish flyhalf Gordon Waddell preferred to keep the game tight. The Springboks won the match through tries by GH van Zyl (2), Mannetjies Gericke and DC van Jaarsveldt.
Mickey Gerber, first of the modern running fullbacks, converted the tries and kicked a penalty.
One of the proudest moments for EP rugby was in 1955 when the home team thrashed the British Lions 20-0 at the Crusader Ground.
Another famous day was the clash between the SA Africans and England at the Wolfson Stadium in 1972.
England went on to win the clash 36-3, but the SA team were missing several stars because of tensions between the Spring Rose Club and the Port Elizabeth Board officials.
Players like Peter Mkata, Phindile Mdodana, Skumbuzo Oliphant and Temba Ludwaba, top candidates for positions in the team, did not turn up for trials because of the tensions.
Another memorable match was played at the Wolfson Stadium in 1975 when the SA Africans (known as Leopards) beat the SA Federation 18-12 after a fierce battle.
Another famous match at the Boet Erasmus Stadium was in 1974 when the British Lions beat the Springboks 26-9 to win their first series in South Africa.
It turned out to be a rough Test with both sides using their fists and was dubbed the “Battle of the Boet”.
At the end, a delighted Lions skipper, Willie-John McBride, was chaired off the field by his players.
So what was it like back in the day?
While some may bemoan the passing of some of the old and quaint customs, Kolisi will not be among them.
If things were still being run as they were back in 1891, Kolisi would most likely not be leading the team today.
As was the tradition in the old days, the organising union, Eastern Province, chose the captain and the team before the first-ever South African rugby Test was played in PE.
And there was a perfectly logical reason for the hometown selection, according to the men administering the game at that time – they said it would cut down on travelling expenses.
This week the Boks flew fullback Willie le Roux back from his club side in England at the last moment to join their squad for today’s Test.
How times have changed!