Oliver reflects on '81
July 20, 2006

When the 1981 Springboks rugby tour lurched around New Zealand, about a third of the current All Blacks weren't even born and most of the rest of them were still in nappies.

One player with a close affinity with that tumultuous two-month visit is hooker Anton Oliver, whose father Frank got up close and personal with the tourists.

Frank Oliver played for the All Blacks in the second test at Wellington, which South Africa won.

It was his final appearance in black, as he was replaced for the tour finale at Auckland by a youthful Gary Whetton.

Twenty-five years ago this week the tour began and it's not so much the role of his father in a seminal chapter of New Zealand history that captures Anton Oliver's interest.

He was only five at the time so barely recalls any of the on-field moments, nor the chasm in New Zealand society that the visit opened up as friends, family and factions classified themselves as pro or anti-tour.

Images of barbed wire, flour bombs, demonstrations and violent exchanges between police and protesters throughout the country were beamed worldwide. It is widely believed that the attitude of thousands of New Zealanders helped hasten the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa.

The socialogical elements of the tour have provided an increasing fascination for veteran hooker Oliver, who harbours an interest in All Blacks' rugby history and its impact on the shaping of a nation.

Like many, he says those two months in the winter of 1981 marked an end of innocence for New Zealand.

"That tour has gone down internationally as an insight into how a society can erupt. I thought that was a fascinating expose on just exactly where New Zealand was," Oliver said.

"We weren't where we thought we were and sport was the medium for that little story to unfold.

"It would be interesting if you put yourself into that situation now. It was so complex."

Meanwhile, South Africa's Tri-Nations test here on Saturday has also heralded more formal commemorations of another famous Springboks tour of New Zealand, in 1956.

That tour 50 years ago was almost the antithesis of 1981. Rugby dominated the public consciousness like possibly no other time -- but for the right reasons.

The tourists were warmly welcomed but were regarded as the ultimate enemy in a heavyweight battle for world rugby supremacy.

Record crowds crammed grounds for three months, culminating with the All Blacks' first series defeat of the Springboks and an enduring quote from No 8 Peter Jones, the fourth test hero, to an exuberant crowd at Eden Park, "I'm absolutely buggered".


Live Sports

Communication error please reload the page.