Savage clashes marked 1970 Springboks series

17:00, Aug 18 2011
Fergie McCormick
FRIENDLY CITY: Fergie McCormick on the burst. Supporting him in are former All Black captain and flanker Ian Kirkpatrick, left , and Ian "Nectar" Stevens.

When the All Blacks confront the Springboks in Port Elizabeth on Sunday morning, it will be their first test in the 'Friendly City' since 1970.

Ahead of that crucial third test at Boet Erasmus Stadium 41 years ago, however, the mood in the Republic was much darker.

The Springboks and their fans were searching for revenge after losing the second test in Cape Town and New Zealand fullback Fergie McCormick was Public Enemy No 1.

Richard Knowler talks to Fergie McCormick about an incident that left Syd Nomis with a mouthful of broken teeth and incited many Springboks fans ahead of the third test in Port Elizabeth. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

It took just a split-second for Fergie McCormick to become the most hated man in South African rugby on the 1970 tour.

Moments after Springboks wing Syd Nomis chipped the ball over the All Blacks fullback's head in the second test at Cape Town, he learned a painful lesson that if you tested the fiery McCormick's defensive resolve you were rolling the dice.

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What happened next has been debated and eviscerated over the last 41 years. No-one denies McCormick's arm smashed into Nomis' mouth but the former says it was an accident while the latter states otherwise.

The result of that collision, though, is beyond dispute. Upon waking from a brief sleep Nomis was assisted to his feet by referee Wynand Malan and then spat a couple of teeth into the hand of the whistler, who coincidentally, was a dentist.

Malan then straightened the remainder of Nomis' teeth (six of them needed to be replaced a few years later) play resumed and the All Blacks eventually retreated to the sheds as 9-8 winners.

The next day the accusations were flying after a brutal encounter that resulted in players from both teams having head wounds stitched. McCormick was marked as the villain and as the two countries readied themselves for the next test at the Boet Erasmus Stadium he knew a hot reception was waiting.

To set the record straight, McCormick is adamant he did not deliberately elbow Nomis and has even kept a report from a South African newspaper that studied film footage of the incident and declared his back was turned at the moment of impact.

"I didn't go into contact with him," McCormick insists. "It is all out of perspective. For the rest of my life, it is going to be known as a stiff-arm moment.

"But I will be honest, and you can print whether you want to or not, the reason Carter and McCaw are not over (for this weekend's test) there is because they will really be targeted.

"South Africa do target top players to get rid of them. There are no easy games in South Africa for the boys."

Never one to back away from a stoush, McCormick was hardly bug-eyed with shock when the Springboks attempted to belt seven colours out of him in Port Elizabeth.

But what did surprise him was how eager the public and newspapers were to inform him of the ambush that was being prepared.

While having a quiet beer with a few of his team-mates one afternoon McCormick copped a gobful from a pub patron about the Nomis incident but just shrugged it off as a bit of banter.

Then the barman pitched in with some barbs and as McCormick returned from the bathroom the patron decided to taunt him with a shove.

"And I said `look if there is any more of that mate'," McCormick said. "But there was a funny side to it and I warned my mates we might have to do a runner."

Having noticed a water fountain in the hotel foyer, the All Black manipulated his adversary until his back was facing the ornament and in mid-conversation gave him a nudge: "The last I saw of him, he was in the fountain. And I was gone, mate."

McCormick also had to resist the urge to clock an incensed opponent before a midweek match had even kicked off.

"One of their forwards said to me `you'll be on a stretcher today'. So I gave him a bit of shove. And that was before we had even got out of the tunnel. Things like that used to come up."

There were also abusive telephone calls and telegrams and even the female receptionist at the All Blacks hotel warned McCormick the Springboks were hunting for his scalp as he walked to the bus before kickoff at Port Elizabeth.

On the eve of the match the local newspaper stated the Boks would pummel McCormick and no-one was to be disappointed. Within minutes of kickoff a high ball was kicked by Nomis in his direction and he received some heavy attention from Jan Ellis, Piet Greyling and Hannes Marais.

"They targeted me," McCormick confirmed. "They cleaned me out when I took the ball and later my back was the colour of a black blanket. They cleaned me up and that is all there is to it."

And so it went on. McCormick was battered by the Boks who won the test 14-3 and the series 3-1 when they triumphed 20-17 in the fourth test in Johannesburg.

Although his team-mates tried to assist their fullback in Port Elizabeth, his play suffered from his injured back. Canterbury team-mate "Grizz" Wyllie kept a wary eye out for him when he was getting bashed and McCormick reckoned that by taking on the protector role he sacrificed his place in the fourth test team.

The encounter may not have been as rugged as the Cape Town test but there were some nasty incidents.

Nomis recently boasted about landing a few punches on McCormick when they spilled over the touchline in a tackle but the latter said he chose to "cover up" before unleashing his own shot.

"I let him have one but (Frik) du Preez grabbed my arm on the way through. And as it was, I still knocked Nomis' mouthguard out. So you could imagine if I had a full swing at him he would not have only lost his teeth, he would have had a sore jaw I can assure you.

"And there was a hell of a melee in that game then. Meadsy (Colin Meads) was in it – he got du Preez for me.

"I got Greyling; I squared-off and he went down. There was a bit going on, I can assure you. Chris Laidlaw told the referee that if he didn't clean it up, he would be next."

Now 72, McCormick was in the reserves for the final test and is still unhappy about the team selected for that crucial match. The obsession with continually running the ball under coach Ivan Vodanovich, along with his rigorous training sessions, also drew criticism from some players.

As for this weekend's test, McCormick reckons no matter what the scoreline, or which side wins, the physical nature of a test between the two old foes shouldn't be underestimated.

It was just that in his day there were not enough TV cameras to play Big Brother and zoom in on every move. Players learned to fend for themselves against their greatest foe, the Springboks.

"At the end of the day over there it was every dog for himself. But in saying that they were very competitive, the mongrels," he cackled. "And there are some hugely talented footballers there. They are just dogged, that is the way they are."

The Press