Loading... Please wait...

Latest News

We were taken unawares of how good they were at scrummaging

Posted by

New Zealand captain Tane Norton, with flanker Ian Kirkpatrick in support, has his eye on the ball as the British Lions halfback Brynmor Williams – a dual-code Wales representative in union and league – chases hard in the second Test in Christchurch of the 1977 series. The Lions upset the All Blacks, 13-9.In the countdown to the first Lions Test at Eden Park on June 24, former All Blacks captain Tane Norton remembers the wake-up call the 1971 tourists brought with them to these shores – and how it made New Zealand coaches change their ways. Lynn McConnell reports.

HE MADE his All Blacks debut in the cauldron of the first Test against the British and Irish Lions in 1971, and then led his country when the tourists returned in 1977. Few men know more about what awaits Steve Hansen’s men than Tane Norton.

The rugged Canterbury hooker, now 75, admits the Lions’ powerful pack caught the All Blacks by surprise in 1971 – and he was caught right in the middle of it.

"We were taken a bit unawares of just how good they were at scrummaging,” he told Rugby News.

"In 1971, we weren't so focused on pushing people back. We could put a scrum down all right, but the way they were doing it, they were as tight as hell. You couldn't move them and it was hard work.

"But over the next three or four years, JJ Stewart and the other coaches put a hell of a lot of time into scrummaging, all over the country really, and we gradually improved and managed to hold our own.

“The 1977 side were a good side – still a hell of a good forward pack - but we were a better match for them up front.”

By 1977 the Lions had extended their record with a series win in South Africa and what they learnt in the republic was seen in New Zealand.

"When they played the South Africans they had to be good, and they carried that on," Norton adds.

But for various reasons, including a miserable New Zealand winter of rain and mud, the Lions did not dominate as they had in 1971 and 1974. Part of that was put down to the captaincy choice of brilliant Wales first five-eighth Phil Bennett.

He didn't handle the job well, although as a new captain at Test level himself, Norton said it was usually an advantage to be a new captain when taking a team on tour, rather than having every move analysed by home fans.

"When they make a new captain, he really should have taken the team away somewhere. But the pressure in New Zealand - it's good, that's what New Zealand is all about – is hard. If you go overseas that's all you're doing, you're by yourself and I think you learn a lot from that.

"When you think about the tours that have come back from South Africa [as the All Blacks had in both 1970 and 1976] a lot of the top players, and captains, retire and it is pretty hard work replacing them.

"I found it hard [in 1977]. People in New Zealand are real good to you and they support you all the way, but if you're not going too good they also tell you about it which is fair enough."

Norton's lasting memory of the 1971 series was typified by events in the third Test in Wellington, which the Lions won 13-3.

"A dog ran on the field and tripped one of our guys up and that was about the story of the Test - it was just bad luck."

The All Blacks were hit by injuries and Brian Lochore was called out of retirement to play at lock when Peter Whiting couldn't play.

Norton adds: "They were lucky they could call BJ in but on the eve of the Test he had to come down from up on the farm and it must have been hard for him. I don't know how he did it.

“You couldn't get anybody better to come in, but to come in, in those circumstances, must have been blooming hard for him.”

The 1977 series went down to the wire.

I would say it was inches close in 1977 at Eden Park. [Irish No 8] Willie Duggan just dived at the line and you might say he was over. But he wasn't, he was just a tad short. They were a good side, and good to play.

"It was a pretty tough Test, the pressure that was going on us. We lost a prop, and we had two or three three-man scrums. I don't know why we did, we didn't practice it but we did talk about it for when we got into strife.

"In those days John McEldowney went off and you couldn't bring a prop on immediately. We had to wait, but there were two or three scrums while we waited. They were going to put Laurie Knight in there but there was no way I would put Laurie Knight against Fran Cotton. I don't think it would have done us any good at all. The suggestion came out, to just do something quick, and we did it. We won our own three scrums.

"You get some stick for doing it, mainly from older player - they weren't very happy about it," he added.

So who wins in 2017? 

"Steve Hansen is pretty smart, he will know what they have got. If they play up to scratch, they will be a hard team to beat. This will be one of our big tests for a long time.

“Sometimes we've had a weak Lions trip, but I think those days are gone. Warren Gatland knows both sides of it and he will have them tuned up pretty well.

“It is a tough tour for them.”

Read why former All Blacks coach Laurie Mains rates Ben Smith the best fullback on the planet. Inside your June Rugby News at good newsagents now.

View Comments

Power Packed Backline A Feature Of Taranaki Mitre 10 Cup Squad

Eighteen players with Investec Super Rugby experience, three Mitre 10 Cup debutants and 541 combined games for Taranaki.These all feature in the 2016 Port Taranaki Bulls squad unveiled by head coach Colin Cooper ahead of the team’s first Mitre 10 Cup game against Bay of Plenty in Tauranga on 20 August. QUICK TAP: 10 NEW FACES [...]

Read More »

Twelve New Caps in Makos Mitre 10 Cup Squad

The Tasman Makos coaches and management have named a squad of 32 players to contest the 2016 Mitre 10 Cup Premiership. The team is split between 17 forwards and 15 backs and will be captained by Shane Christie.There is a good balance of experience – 16 players with Super Rugby experience – and freshness, with 12 [...]

Read More »

Mix of Star Power and Experience in Magpies Mitre 10 Cup Squad

Newly promoted Hawkes Bay Magpies have named a vastly experience squad to contest the 2016 Mitre 10 Cup Premiership.Magpies coaches Craig Philpott and Danny Lee have included many top performing players from across the five New Zealand Super Rugby teams as well as a number of young players from the Hawkes Bay club rugby scene.The [...]

Read More »

10 New Faces in Waikato Mitre 10 Cup Squad

A 30-man Waikato squad, featuring 10 players in their first season with the province, has been named ahead of the upcoming 2016 Mitre 10 Cup season.Among the new faces are four players with plenty of first class experience - Hurricanes midfield back Willis Halaholo, former North Harbour and Blues Development Number 8 Jordan Manihera, former [...]

Read More »

Sonny Bill Williams Ruled out for up to 8 months

Sonny Bill Williams will been on the sidelines for between 6-8 months after earlier today partially rupturing his Achilles tendon during the All Black 7s first up loss to Japan at the Rio Olympics.This means Williams will miss the Rugby Championship, the All Blacks end of year tour and atleast the first part of Super [...]

Read More »

Sonny Bill Williams only change in All Blacks

All Blacks squad named for 2016 Investec Rugby Championship The All Blacks selectors, Steve Hansen, Ian Foster and Grant Fox, have selected their squad for the 2016 Investec Rugby Championship. The squad is as follows: (with province, Investec Super Rugby [...]

Read More »

Hurricanes Name Coles Despite Injury

Hurricanes captain Dane Coles will be given until match day to prove his fitness for Saturday’s Investec Super Rugby semifinal against the Chiefs at Westpac Stadium. Coles has been bracketed at hooker with Ricky Riccitelli in an otherwise unchanged Hurricanes team from the one which beat the Sharks 41-0 in last weekend’s quarterfinal. Riccitelli has been bracketed with New Zealand Under [...]

Read More »

Blues Centre Rene Ranger Appears in Court

New Zealand Rugby and the Blues have initiated misconduct proceedings against Rene Ranger following a drink driving incident earlier this month. Ranger appeared today at the Waitakere District Court and pleaded guilty to charges of careless driving and drink driving. He was convicted, and disqualified from driving for seven months, fined $800 and ordered to pay court costs. Blues Rugby Chief [...]

Read More »

Steelers Mitre 10 Cup Squad announced

Steelers coaches Darryl Suasua, Grant Henson and Semo Sititi have announced their squad for the 2016 Mitre 10 Cup. The squad includes 12 new players, with New Zealand Under 20’s representatives Jonathan Taumateine and Orbyn Leger among the new faces. Former New Zealand Secondary Schools captain Sootala Fa’aso’o is included in the squad alongside returning [...]

Read More »


Sign up to our newsletter