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Taking an unconventional route to EnglandJohn GriffithsNovember 13, 2013
Why did the Springboks come to Britain/Ireland by boat for their 1960-61 tour? A van Wyk, England
Air travel became the norm for touring sides from the mid-1950s. The 1955 Lions flew to South Africa as did their 1959 successors to Australia and New Zealand.
The Springboks also made the trip to Australia and New Zealand by air in 1956. Dr Danie Craven was their manager on that trip. It marked a low in South African rugby history. The 'Boks were beaten by the All Blacks for the first time in a Test series (3-1) and the tourists also went down to Waikato (in the opening match of the New Zealand leg of the visit), Canterbury and the New Zealand Universities. They drew with Taranaki.
A lengthy inquest into the reasons for the comparative failure of that tour was led by Dr Craven. One of his conclusions was that Springbok teams should never again travel by air.
An experienced international himself, he had been a part of the Springbok side that sailed to Britain for the 1931-32 tour. He felt that the longer sea journey helped blend the playing squad into a team - something that could not be achieved on a flight. The 1956 tourists in New Zealand, he felt, took too long to knit together as a team.
It should also be added that an engine failure on the flight between Cocos Island and Darwin on the way to Australia in 1956 had unnerved the tour party and Craven felt that it contributed to the tense atmosphere that seemed to surround the side for most of its visit.
So when the 1960 side came to Britain they travelled sedately and in style on the Pretoria Castle. The travelling South African press party for that tour accompanied the team and Maxwell Price, one of his country's most respected sports journalists, recollected later: "The sea passage provided a splendid opportunity for becoming better acquainted, and as for the players themselves what a chance for building up friendships and team spirit."
The wily Craven saw the 1960-61 side go through the tour of the Home Unions unbeaten until its last match, when they lost 6-0 at Cardiff to the Barbarians.
John Griffiths is a widely respected rugby historian and is the author of several sports books, a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph and co-author of the IRB International Rugby Yearbook. He has provided insight for Scrum.com since 1999.