FLASHBACK: All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick and coach John Hart are all smiles after winning the first series in South Africa in 1996. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

What is it about an All Blacks-Springboks test match in South Africa that makes me set the alarm for the early hours of the morning to watch the drama live?

Maybe it goes back to my late father waking me in the middle of the night in 1970 to listen to the commentary of the fourth and deciding match through the radio crackle.

It probably reverts to an even earlier time and some of my first memories of rugby, listening to the Springboks’ 1965 tour of New Zealand on dad’s old valve radio in the shed behind our house in Paekakariki.

Now that might not sound like a big deal because my father wasn’t a rugby fan, but there was something that drew him to tests against the old foe.

He recounted stories of queuing overnight for tickets to the 1956 test at Athletic Park and had great joy recalling Peter Jones’ “I’m absolutely buggered” quote after scoring the All Blacks’ winning try to seal their first series win against South Africa at Eden Park.

Then there was the 1976 tour, and live television coverage from South Africa beamed into our lounges for the first time.

Parties were planned, and we settled in to witness what we hoped would be a first series victory in the republic.

But no – poor team selections, rock-hard grassless grounds, the unfamiliarity of playing at altitude, and diabolical refereeing all contributed to just more disappointment.

It would be another 16 years before the famous black jersey graced South Africa’s rugby stadia again, and what a doozy the one-off ‘Return Test’ at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park was, with the All Blacks holding on to win 27-24, after leading 20-3 in the second half.

The drama wasn’t just on the field though, with actions such as the playing of the apartheid era national anthem against agreed protocols, leading to a post-match political stoush.

Then there was the gut-wrenching drama of losing the 1995 World Cup final 15-12, with the ensuing allegations of “Suzy the waitress’ deliberately poisoning the All Blacks’ food to add more fuel to an already flaming fire.

Finally, in 1996, we broke through the impenetrable wall to win our first series over the old enemy on their own soil. Who will forget halfback Justin Marshall imploring referee Didier Mene to whistle full-time with his team hard on defence in the series-clinching 33-26 win in Pretoria?

Since that series win, the All Blacks have won 13 of their 24 clashes in South Africa, many of them by only a few points. In contrast, the All Blacks have won 19 of 24 tests, with one draw, between the two in New Zealand, highlighting the difficulty of beating the Boks on their home soil.

The players don’t need the desperation from the series loss to Ireland as motivation. The sight of facing a big bulky Bok, and the desire to silence a ferocious South African crowd baying for blood, is enough to fire up any proud All Black.

These next two tests will be defining for Ian Foster, his coaching staff, and undoubtedly some ageing All Blacks, adding more intrigue to a compelling tour.

That gives me even more reason to crawl out of bed, boil the kettle, and settle down with a cuppa to watch another classic in one of the greatest rivalries in world sport.



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