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5 July 2021
dividing a nation
Photo: Courtesy of NZ Rugby Museum

Phil Gifford recalls a time when politics and rugby collided head-on in previously sleepy old New Zealand (page 98).

At a quiet party on Auckland’s North Shore about two months before the 1981 Springboks arrived, the host was detailing to a group of us his disgust at anti-tour feeling.
The men around him growled approval. I whimped out, and joined in.
But not enthusiastically enough.
“You don’t really mean it, do you?” said the pro-tour cheerleader.
“No, I actually don’t.”
Within a minute the happy host, who was about half my size and literally twice my age, was challenging me to a fist fight on the lawn outside. Nobody tried to dissuade me when I left instead.
In ’81 it was almost impossible for a New Zealander, especially one crazy on rugby, to hide from the divisions over whether to welcome or not a team from a country where making non-white people second-class citizens was enshrined in their constitution.
I was opposed to the tour. By and large, rugby players held to the mantra that sport and politics shouldn’t be mixed. Graham Mourie, the All Blacks captain, was the most notable exception to the rule.

Continue this story in our July issue...

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