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It is 1956 and the Southland Rugby team were on tour with a Ranfurly Shield challenge against Canterbury. They played in front of a crowd of approx 20,000, won the toss and chose to play into the wind. Southland could not match the power and skill of the Canterbury team and went down 17-3. They could, however, come out of the game with the knowledge that they gave them probably the hardest match of the season so far.
Southland team was:
D. L. Ashby (Eastern), R. Todd (Eastern), R. Gilson (Eastern), M. Earwaker (Southern), A.L. Wilson (Collegiate), K. Laidlaw (Marist), J. T. McKenzie (Western), A. Soper (Northern), I. Todd (Collegiate), I. M. Miller (Central) (Captain), B. Winders (Marist), T. Ryan (Eastern), H. O'Neill (Marist), G. Groves (Eastern), C. A. Lamb (Southern). A. Tait (Old Boys), C. Rautahi (Pirates), R. Terry (Western), C. A. Woods (Central), R. Bowen (Bluff), E. Jamieson (Bluff).
Canterbury were notorious for being slow starters, but not in this game and within 25 minutes were up 11-0.
It took this long for Southland's defence to get organised and once they did Canterbury, try as they did, just could not penetrate.
The rugby was tight with both teams keeping the ball in the forwards. It was all about who was going to wear the other down first.
Play was gruelling at times and it was the strength and skill of the Canterbury team that wore down the Southlanders.
In saying this Southland played their best game of the season, but it was not enough to combat the red and black.
Southland was good in set play, in particular the lineouts, where they actually won the count 32-30.
Both teams were so intense on playing it in the forwards that the ball hardly travelled past the second five eight.
Southland forwards got through a power of work, particularly, Ian Todd, who was never far from the ball and engaged in a couple of astounding runs.
Murray Miller playing in a unfamilar position on the side of the scrum, and Ack Soper tackled hard, with the latter having his hands full trying not only to contain his opposite, but also, P. B. Vincent the Canterbury half back and captain. Vincent was incredible in not only his slick passing, but his decision making, taking his team from one side to the other, until the opposition ran out of men. He was beautiful to watch, making many solo dashes, and one in particular carving off 30 yards to take his team 1 yard from Southland's goal line.
G. E. Groves, the Southland hooker, had a tremendous game, spoiling at the front of the lineouts to pressure the opposition and was like a dog with a bone throughout the game. He was aptly supported by C. A. Lamb and H. O'Neill in the tight.
For Canterbury,R. H. Duff and W. J. Whineray in the tight and S. F. Hill and J. B. Buxton in the loose, were always niggling at the Southlanders, and made Jack McKenzie's day at the office a very unpleasant one.
McKenzie would literally just get his hands on the ball, when he would be buried by a pack of forwards.
Len Wilson from Southland was constantly pressured by Roberts the No. 8 for Canterbury so could not show his usual flair, but did not let his side down when it counted.
Kevin Laidlaw (Southland) could not compete with S. K. Henderson (Canterbury), and when they switched R. M. Smith from winger to second five eight the going for Laidlaw was tougher.
M. D. Earwaker had a job on his hands looking after A. E. G. Elsom at centre.
The two wingers, Ray Todd and R. W. Gilson did not get enough opportunity.
Two top class full backs, D. L. Ashby for Southland and G. Patterson for Canterbury, were very even, but it was Ashby that was under more pressure and came through with an A mark.
Seldom if ever, has a Southland team fought so well yet lost. The Southland players were called upon for a supreme effort, and they gave it. But it was not good enough. Canterbury's grip on the shiled seems even more secure.
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