Get Newsletter

Bon voyage Newlands: When the Lions' roar was silenced

SPOTLIGHT: The grande dame that is the Newlands stadium may already have hosted her last-ever rugby match.


Acclaimed @rugby365com writer Paul Dobson – in the third of his series – takes a look at one of the five greatest occasions at the venue.

In this episode he looks at the first Test of the 1980 series between South Africa and the British and Irish Lions.

Morné du Plessis chose two matches from the numerous times he played at Newlands.

One was the Western Province versus New Zealand match in 1976, the other the first Test in 1980 – which we shall recall now.

The 1980s were a most important decade in South African history as it was in the 1980s that South Africa shoved apartheid to its death. Rugby had certainly tried to play its part in ending the evil, which was finally guillotined by the state president, FW de Klerk. It was then ensured against any resurrection by the 1994 election which ended with the election of Nelson Mandela as President – and a rugby celebration which starts with our fifth and final Great Newlands Match.

After several years of trying around the country to “change South Africa on the rugby field”, his avowed intent, Danie Craven, president of the South African Rugby Board, had nudged South African rugby towards nonracism. The white Board, the coloured Federation and the black Association had joined up, grounds and  competitions were being desegregated, the mixed-race South African Barbarians had toured in the United Kingdom, and for the first time the Craven Weeks (senior and junior) had been open to all races. The process had started.


There was nevertheless still strong opposition to the tour at home and abroad, but the four Home Unions voted to tour, and tour they did in a busy year for the Springboks.

They played nine Tests, winning eight. They had new opposition in the Jaguars – a South American combination which was Argentina at heart. They played them in South Africa before the Lions came and then in South America when the Springboks went to South America with a team that included Errol Tobias, the first “nonwhite” Springbok.

The Lions were a strong side, especially up front. They played 18 matches, losing the Test series 3-1 but winning all of their 14 non-Test matches. But injuries were a major problem and no fewer than eight replacements had to be flown out during the tour.

The surprise was how the Lions had the better of the Springbok pack in all but the line-outs.


It was the fast Springbok backs that won the series for the home side, nowhere more obviously so than in the first Test at Newlands, the seventh match of the tour.

(Continue reading below … )

31 May 1980: South Africa v British and Irish Lions

It was 40 years to the day after the official opening on Newlands as a rugby ground.

This Test was the 11th between a team regarded as South Africa and a team from the Home Unions, called the Lions from 1924 on. Of the 10 Tests before this one, South Africa had won seven, the tourists three. South Africa had scored 22 tries to the tourists 12.

The try difference in this 11th Test was 5-1 in favour of the Springboks and yet they did not clinch the victory till a try in injury time, a wonderful try.

Tries produced all South Africa’s points but the boot of Irishman Tony Ward kept the Lions in with a chance of victory. Ward scored 18 points, a record for the Lions in a Test, equalled by Gavin Hastings in New Zealand in 1993. Ward had arrived in South Africa earlier in the week as an injury replacement and, although available, did not play in any of the next three Tests.

The ground was packed. The weather was fine. The people love the Springboks. The Lions are always a drawcard. It was a great occasion – another great occasion at the great ground, and a special occasion for Divan Serfontein, one of the greatest Springbok scrumhalves of all time.

The Springboks won the toss, and Ward kicked off. The game was on and the spectators roared throughout till, released by the final whistle, they streamed onto the field after a four-point win created by backs who were too fast and too opportunistic for the slow-footed Lions. In fact, the Springbok forwards, bettered in scrums, ruck and mauls, were also faster than their opposition with flank Rob Louw the fastest of them all, scoring the first try and playing a crucial role in the winning fifth.

The worst moment of the Test series happened at the first kick-off. A maul formed from the kick-off and Derek Quinnell punched Morné du Plessis in the eye.

Any fears that this would be a repetition of the violence of the 1974 Lions’ visit proved groundless. Du Plessis reeled away from the right-hander, clutching his eye which soon became black. After that rugby was played as it should be.

Morne du Plessis

The first quarter of the match was pointless but then Ward kicked a meaningless kick to his right. Fullback Gysie Pienaar, who was one of the stars of the series, caught the ball and countered from well inside his half. Pienaar chipped ahead. The ball bounced away from Jim Renwick and presented itself to Pienaar who beat one and then passed to speeding Rob Louw who was about 25 metres from the line. He raced ahead, sidestepping John Carleton and surging on to the line with Rodney O’Donnell on his back and Mike Slemen hoping to stop him. Theuns Stoffberg bowled referee Francis Palmade over to get to Louw, but Louw did not need help and scored. Palmade was up to award the try.

The score was 4-3 when Naas Botha chipped to his right. The ball bounced into the hands of centre Willie du Plessis who sped off 23 metres to score under the posts with Slemen in his slipstream. 10-3.

For the third Springbok try, Gerrie Germishuys kicked downfield and Moaner van Heerden got hold of the ball among many players and charged over in the corner.

Halftime came with the Springboks leading 16-9, but in the second half the Lions went ahead, thanks to a fourth penalty by Ward and a strange bit of a try by Graham Price when the Springboks threw into a lineout a few metres from their goal-line. Somehow Price got the ball and fell to the ground for the try. And it was 16-all. Sniffing success, the Lions came roaring back and from a ruck, Ward sidestepped to his left and with his left boot, the right-footer dropped a goal.

Strange as it may seem, the Lions led 19-16.

With just seven minutes to play, Ward punted downfield. Germishuys caught the ball some 10 metres out from his 22 on the Springbok left and he started running to the right. He gave to Pienaar who gave to Ray Mordt who was partially stopped. Louw took the ball off Mordt and gave to Pienaar who was now on the right wing. Pienaar sped ahead and then bowled the ball inside to where Germishuys was. The left wing reached up, got his fingertips to the ball, brought it down and scored a magnificent try. 22-19, the Springboks leading.

The Lions destroyed the Springbok scrum, Serfontein was offside and Ward goaled. 22-all with 80 minutes beckoning.

In fact the match went into injury time when the Springboks won the ball on their right. They went left with speedy meaning. Mordt had come in from the right. He forged ahead and gave to Willie Du Plessis who gave to Germishuys, who gave inside to Mordt. The ball went to ground. Willie du Plessis picked it up and surged to the Lions’ goal-line. The Lions stopped the surge and the forwards battled, till Van Heerden and Louis Moolman flung themselves into the heaving body of players, and Louw fell back with the ball. He gave to Serfontein and the scrumhalf darted over for the try that won the match.

Serfontein, playing his first Test scored the try that counted most – sealing a 26-22 win for the Boks.

Newlands belonged to its spectators – and the Springbok heroes who had shown the world that Springbok rugby was anything but dull.

Five tries. It is interesting in terms of today’s habits that the was no exuberant hugging and kissing of try-scorers in those days.


For South Africa:
Tries: Louw, W du Plessis, Van Heerden, Germishuys, Serfontein
Cons: Botha 3

For the B&I Lions
Try: Price
Pens: Ward 5
DG: Ward


South Africa: ZMJ Pienaar, RH Mordt, DJ Smith, W du Plessis, JS Germishuys, HE Botha, DJ Serfontein, M du Plessis (captain), MTS Stofberg, RJ Louw, LC Moolman, JL van Heerden, M le Roux, WJH Kahts, RB Prentis

Lions: RC O’Donnell, J Carleton (replaced by RWR Gravell), DS Richards, JM Renwick, MAC Slemen, AJP Ward, CS Patterson, DL Quinnell, John O’Driscoll, J Squire, MJ Colclough, WB Beaumont (captain), G Price, PJ Wheeler, C Williams

Referee: Francis Palmade (France)

Previous episodes:

Part One – 1949
Part Two – 1976

Join free

Beyond 80 | Episode 3

Japan Rugby League One | Bravelupus v Eagles | Full Match Replay

Big Jim Show | Guinness Six Nations | England v Scotland

Vancouver SVNS - Day 2 - Full Replay

Vancouver SVNS - Day 1 - Full Replay

Boks Office | Jesse Kriel reveals the hardest team he had to play at the Rugby World Cup

Big Jim Walks and Talks with Handré Pollard


Write A Comment