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Springboks Leap Over Yorkshire – October 1906

Springboks leap over Yorkshire – October 1906

A year after the successful tour by the All Blacks, South Africa followed, playing 29 games between September 1906 and January 1907. This included test matches against all the home nations and France, and a fixture against Yorkshire on 13th October 1906. The team won 26 games, with one draw and two losses. Of the four home tests, they lost to Scotland (0-6), beat Ireland (15-12) and Wales (11-0) and drew with England (3-3).

Although South Africa had previously hosted three British (Lions) tours in 1891, 1896 and 1903, this was their first trip overseas and one which is credited with uniting a country which, only four years earlier had been at war. The second Boer War eventually saw Great Britain victorious, but it had come at a great cost and left the Boers with a deep feeling of unease towards their victors. A united South Africa was still four years away and the tourists came from the four colonies – Cape, Transvaal, Orange Free State and Natal. The selected (all-white) squad was an equal mix of English and Afrikaans speakers, some of which had been on opposite sides during the war. Sommie Morkel and Klondyke Raaff had been Boer prisoners of war whilst Billy Millar and Rajah Martheze, had fought on the British side.

They were led by Paul Roos, devout Christian and Afrikaans speaker whose first statement as captain set the tone for the squad. “I would like to make absolutely clear at the outset we are not English-speaking or Afrikaans-speaking, but a band of happy South Africans.”

This was the tour where they gained their Springboks nickname. The generally accepted version of the story is that the players named themselves realising that the British press would otherwise come up with a name for them, so they took the proactive step naming themselves after the small springbok which appeared on their jersey. Unfortunately there are discrepancies in this version as the South African rugby historian Gideon Nieman explained. “There is no doubt that the Daily Mail of 20 September 1906 was the first to use the word “Springboks” in relation to the 1906 team, although the emblem and colours had been approved in 1903. [Team manager CHECK FIRST NAME] Carden and later his family somehow wanted the honour of having given the name.  When the team left Cape Town they had no uniform … They received their jerseys the day before the first match on Thursday 27 September against East Midlands. So someone must’ve placed that order (and given the design of the badge) well in advance and it could only have been the S.A Rugby Board’s secretary, Mr A.V Solomon. In fact, Solomon had instructed an artist from Cape Town, one Heinrich Egersdorfer to design “a Springbok in the act of jumping” as an emblem for South African rugby as early as March 1906. Egersdorfer was well-known for his Animal series of postcards.”

The game against Yorkshire was originally due to be played at Castleford. Yorkshire Secretary Bob Oakes explained that the South Africans were likely to be “prove a great draw” and he suggested moving the game to a more central venue with Yorkshire Chairman Sam Tattersall proposing using Headingley again.  The committee decision wasn’t unanimous with the representatives of Castleford and Giggleswick voting for the game to remain at Castleford but were defeated by seven votes to two. The Leeds Cricket, Football and Athletic Company, owners of Headingley loaned their ground for free.  It was agreed that the South Africans would take 70% of the receipts after expenses. Admission to Headingley was set at six pence with a shilling extra to sit in the bottom stand; the enclosure opposite the covered stand two shillings extra; reserved and numbered seats on the covered stand five shillings each including admission to the ground.

The Springboks were constantly compared to their predecessors – in terms of results, players and playing style. The Sporting Life identified that, on average, the Springboks were eighteen months younger than their All Blacks counterparts, and were slightly taller but there was little discrepancy in weight.  “To examine the matter from a playing aspect, however, forces one to the conclusion that what difference exits in physique is fully balanced by the greater science and strategy shown by the New Zealanders whose brilliant expositions of the finer points of the game made “hacks” of our best English teams.

Flaneur, writing in the Leeds Mercury, explained the Springboks “will face a team of Yorkshire amateurs that has been chosen with the greatest of care, a team, moreover, which the selection committee feel confident will not absolutely disgrace the county.” He added, “The Yorkshire committee, do not, of course, flatter themselves that their team will win, but it is hoped that they will prove more formidable opponents to the conquering Colonials” than Northumberland or East Midlands. “Everyone will be perfectly satisfied if the county make a good hard fight, and show that there is still some quality in Yorkshire Rugby Union football.”

The Yorkshire team: R. Partis (Hull and East Riding); J.L Fisher (Hull and East Riding), A.S Pickering (Harrogate), F.E Steinthall (Ilkey), T. Orton (Harrogate); T.A Godby (Ilkey), H.W Willey (Sheffield); J. Green (Skipton) [Captain], W.Knox (Skipton), R.Duckett (Skipton), J.A Ritson (Hull and East Riding), T.M Lofhouse (Hull and East Riding), E.D. Ibbitson (Headingley), S.N Yeadon (Headingley) and H.W Ibbotson (Castleford).

The Yorkshire team was described as “experimental” in the Leeds Mercury. Their captain against the All Blacks, Bernard Oughtred was now working in Barrow and made himself unavailable. Five players had played against the All Blacks – Pickering, Orton, Green, Knox and Duckett.

Scottish international Pat Munro, who was educated at Leeds Grammar School, and who was attending Oxford University, declined an invite pointing out that he had no qualification to play for the county and V.A Elliott, of Carlisle and formerly of Yorkshire College explained his had pledged his allegiance to Cumberland.

The forwards were all established Yorkshire players, with the exception of Ritson, who was described as one of the best forwards in Lancashire rugby the previous season, and who was now playing his club rugby for Hill and East Riding.  Together they were described as “a good hard working lot.”

The half backs, Godby and Willey were “strangers” to each other but both “knew the game and were not afraid of work.” In the three-quarters Pickering was partnered by Steinthal, a player highly rated by Welsh legend Gwynn Nichols, Orton was “perhaps the smartest three-quarter” in Yorkshire club rugby, “though he has never shown his true form in county engagements.” Fisher was a British (Lion) International, and Partis at full back, was third choice behind Joe Auty and Harry Lee, both of whom were unavailable.

Flaneur, “As I have said, Yorkshire will no doubt be beaten, perhaps by twenty points; but they seem capable of making a big fight.

Barring illness and injuries, The South African’s put out their strongest fifteen, whom were expected to be tested by the first soft ground they had faced on the tour. Rain in the days leading up to the game had turned the Headingley ground, in Horse racing parlance “heavy”, although on the day it was described as being as in “excellent condition.”

Before the game the Yorkshire team met at the Metropole Hotel to discuss tactics before taking char-a-bancs to the ground.  The gates opened at 1.30pm and before kick-off the crowd was entertained by the Armley and Wortley Brass band, who, according to the Yorkshire Post, “rendered appropriate and much appreciated selections of music.”

The Yorkshire Post reported, “The morning was beautifully fine, but at about one o’clock the weather broke, and intermittent showers of rain and hail fell until the time for starting the match, while an extremely cold north-west wind added to the general discomfort. Nevertheless, the attendance was a good one, 9963 persons paying the admission fees. There must have been about 1500 of the Leeds club’s members present also, the crowd thus numbering over 11000. The receipts amounted to about £350, of which the tourists receive 70 percent.”

Before the kick-off the Springboks performed, what the Leeds Mercury described “as their fearsome Zulu war-cry.”

‘Ghee Gammillio Gahee,
Ghee Gammillio Gahee,
Ghee Gammillio Gahee,

Yorkshire lost the toss but straight from the delayed kick off – at 3.35pm “Yorkshire…roused great excitement by putting in a strong attack. The forwards showed capital rushing power and, aided by smart work on the part of Pickering and Fisher on the right wing, they went to the visitors’ line.” This was to be one of their best chances of the game, but they failed to take it and the Springboks cleared their lines.

South Africa opened the scoring through a Dobbin goal following a free kick.  Stegman then benefitted from an interpassing move to score a try. Carolin added the difficult conversion.   Morkel scored the second try and then Stegman added his second, a near repeat of the first. Both conversion s by Carolin missed. Stegman nearly completed his hat-trick but Partis brought him “down in fine style near the corner flag.”

Before half time, P. Le Roux and Carolin both scored tries, the latter converting his own effort. This at the interval the score board read South Africans 23 – Yorkshire 0.

Three minutes into the second period “Yorkshire had distinctly hard lines in not scoring, the South Africans being somewhat fortunate in escaping with a touch down from a fine forward rush, headed by Yeadon, Duckett, Green and Knox.”

Hirsch added South Africa’s sixth try, Carolin missing again with the conversion defence. Carolin’s goal kick was a failure. Marthese was the next to score, rolling over from a scrummage.

“Then Yorkshire had a fine opening, but it was badly missed; Willey got the ball in the loose, and gave it to Steinthal. The latter made considerable ground, and then transferred to Orton. The Harrogate man, however, failed to accept the pass, though he had a clear field. A rush of the South Africans followed and Carolin scored what proved to be the last try of the match after running half the length of the field. He failed with the goal kick.”  At the final whistle South Africa won 34-0.

The Sporting Life wrote “Substantial as the margin of victory was, the display of the South Africans was not convincing. Yorkshiremen freely admit that they are a fine side, but the general opinion is that they are not quite as good as the New Zealanders. They lack the individual brilliancy of the men from “down under” and the front rank has not that knack of gaining possession in the scrum that distinguished the “All Blacks.” As far as the Yorkshiremen were concerned, their display was disappointing. They adopted altogether wrong tactics, being content to rely entirely upon the kick-and-rush game instead of trying to open out the play as the South Africans did. As far as they were concerned, there was only one decent round of passing in the whole game.”

After the match the players and guests were entertained at the Metropole Hotel.  Music by the Carlton Prize Quartette, dinner and speeches were the order of the evening. Mr. Tattersall congratulated the South Africans upon their display and said that, while the Yorkshire forwards had undoubtedly worked hard, the team as a whole had not.

Mr. Carden, the South Africans’ manager, decried the decline in Rugby in his absence from the country during the last twenty years, adding if the “visit did anything to arrest the downward tendency, he thought the visit would not have been paid in vain. He wished there were a dividing line between Rugby and Northern Union football, and that a new name could be found for one of them.”  Sixteen years later he would get his wish as the Northern Union became the Rugby Football League.

Richard Lowther