Match report – England v South Africa 08/12/1906
Photo: World Rugby Museum Archive
2011 is World Cup year, and will see 20 teams compete for the Webb Ellis Trophy in New Zealand. In 2007 England went down 6-15 to South Africa, dashing their hopes of becoming the first team to win the trophy twice consecutively. In our historic match report, we take a look at the first ever match between these two teams, which took place on the 8th December 1906 at Crystal Palace.
After a sixteen day sail to Southampton and twenty gruelling tour matches already played, the big one had arrived: England versus South Africa.
40,000 spectators crammed into the stadium at Crystal Palace to watch the first ever match between the two sides on British soil. The New Zealand ‘All Blacks’ team had travelled to England in 1905 and enjoyed a hugely successful trip which the South Africans wanted to emulate.
There was a small amount of scepticism as to how good the Springboks would be in comparison to the All Blacks. As the back page of the Evening News outlined on September 15th 1906 before they arrived, “The South African footballers who are due to arrive at Southampton next Wednesday are said to be almost as clever as the New Zealanders.”
This scepticism was soon gone as the green and gold army went undefeated in their first 15 matches before losing to Scotland 6-0 on a treacherous and sodden Glasgow pitch. However, victories in close succession over Ireland and Wales meant they were slight favourites going into the tie with England.
Boks captain Paul Roos was without two of his best players with A.C Stegmann and J.D Krige out injured, but with A.F Marsberg playing through the pain barrier. Injuries were to play a big part in the match.
There is a myth that A. Alcock of Guy’s University was not the player the selectors intended to pick. Due to a clerical error he was called up instead of L.A.N Slancock, who was picked for the following fixtures. Alcock was neither praised nor criticised for his performance against South Africa but was never picked again.
The travelling team received a hearty welcome as they trotted onto the pitch for the 2.40 kick off and despite the unfavourable conditions they dominated the first half. The forwards matched the England pack tackle for tackle and the back line were finding space to create scoring opportunities.
For all their superiority they only managed one try during the half. A high kick from A.W.F Marsberg was not dealt with by the England full back E.J Jackett and W.A Miller was first to pounce and bundle over in the corner. The conversion was squandered.
The visitors led 3-0 at half time but in the second half it was England who went on the attack. It was only after the inspirational W.S Morkel was carried off with a rib injury that the home side got their deserved try. The forwards charged inside the South Africa half and put pressure on S.C de Melker who aimed his kick for touch but got it all wrong and gave it straight to F.G Brooks who had an easy touch down. Again the conversion was squandered.
England try scorer, Brooks, was in fact born in Cape Town but was over in England studying. This caused discontent in the South African camp as their report of the tour reads: “He really should have been playing for us as he was a Rhodesian on holiday in England.”
The two sides played out a brutal last quarter but neither could force the win and England held on for an honourable draw. The captain, Cartwright, declared himself very pleased with the result. “I think we all played very well. Particularly the forwards.”
Springbok manager Mr J.C Carden was not so impressed, “It is not my custom to be interviewed. The match was a hard one and we are content with the result. You know our men do not like soft ground.” The pitch was a big talking point as the South Africans felt that the weather conditions really spoilt what should have been a fine match.
The English media outlined that the home side were technically inferior to their opponents but made up for it in tenacity, determination, passion and brute physical force- something that is still very true to this day.