On this day: A tour that made history

On this day: A tour that made history

Sixty years ago today (Thursday 30 April), Scotland created a bit of rugby history with the first visit to the Southern Hemisphere by a single home nation and the first short tour by any Test team.

Until 1960, the norm had been for tours that lasted several months. But the trip to South Africa changed all that. One of the Scotland party of 21 players, managed by Scottish Rugby luminaries, Wilson Shaw and Charlie Drummond, that toured in 1960 was Howe of Fife’s Dave Rollo.

Rollo, a farmer, was made of strong stuff. He had been knocked out on his debut against England in 1959 but was able to play on with a broken nose and help Scotland to a rare draw at Twickenham. Now 85, the 40-times capped tight-head prop has a few colourful recollections of the tour.

“It was great to be invited in the first place! On the farm, I talked with my older brother Ian about whether I would be able to get away, but we finished off the seeding and the tattie planting and Ian looked after the farm while I went,” he recalled.

The farm, just outside Cupar, was mixed arable, crops and beef cattle, a pure Hereford herd.

“I remember we had two other farmers in the Scotland party, a centre, Tommy McClung, a potato merchant from Edinburgh Accies, and a flanker, Charlie Stewart, from Kelso.”

Stewart went on to become President of the SRU in the 1990-91 season. The party was captained by Gordon Waddell, son of the 1925 Scotland Grand Slam winning stand-off Herbert Waddell. The connections to the soil were maintained in the party’s leadership, as Waddell met (and then later married) Mary Oppenheimer on the tour. She was the daughter of the leading South African business figure, Harry Oppenheimer, whose financial empire included the de Beer diamonds.

Dave Rollo

“We set off from Turnhouse and flew to London. There we got on a Comet aircraft to South Africa and touched down in Rome and then Nairobi for refuelling.

“Then we got to Johannesburg before the hop to Port Elizabeth and the journey was about 24 hours.”

The squad trained once a day, with Drummond leading the drills, though there was no formal coaching and Rollo remembered that we were “all encouraged to bring our individual strengths to bear.”

He also recounted the liaison officer, who was “quite a portly fellow”, teaching him about body surfing in the Indian Ocean.

Come the Test match at the Boet Erasmus Stadium in Port Elizabeth – the first time the Springboks had played a Test match there – a crowd of some 24,000 saw South Africa win the game 18-10.

“They didn’t push us around. I think we played pretty well given that we didn’t have very long to get ready for a Test match.

“The Scottish scrum was always very good at that period of time, so we held our own there,” he said.

Scotland’s points that day 60 years ago – when tries were worth a mere three points – came from hooker Norman Bruce with a try, converted by winger Arthur Smith, who also converted his own try in the second-half.

The match report in the following Monday’s Glasgow Herald described it as “the most open international in South Africa for many years” and reported that Bruce “more than held his own in hooking against A Van Der Merwe”. It concluded with some foresight: “Already this experimental short tour by Scotland has been a big success and seems certain to be the forerunner of more such visits.”

Four days after the Test match, Scotland played Griqualand West in Kimberley – centre of diamond mining – and won 21-11.

Scotland’s tries then came from teenage centre Ronnie Cowan of Selkirk; winger Ronnie Thomson of London Scottish; flanker David Edwards of Heriot’s and the peerless winger Arthur Smith who intercepted deep in his own half and raced 85 metres before a change of pace saw him outfox the home full-back. Smith kicked two conversions, Tommy McClung landed one conversion and Cowan added a drop-goal.

Rollo was rested for the game in Kimberley. Off the field he met locals who had connections to Fife. “One was related to Charlie Robertson who had a confectionery shop at the top of the Lady Wynd in Cupar; and another had a bring-and-buy place that had connections to farmer just outside Cupar, McGowan,” he said.

One week on from the Test match, the tour was completed with a 30-16 victory for the Scots against Eastern Transvaal in Springs.

Scotland managed seven tries with Arthur Smith grabbing a hat-trick, Ronnie Thomson a brace and Ronnie Cowan and Melrose full-back Robin Chisholm a score apiece. Smith goaled three conversions but the most popular score of the game was a drop-goal from Glasgow High School FP lock forward Hamish Kemp.

Kemp, another to become President of the SRU – in his case in the 1984-85 season – “surprising everybody but himself, apparently, dropped a goal from 45 yards after having made a fair catch in the last few minutes of a thoroughly entertaining game,” said The Herald’s scribe, who also reckoned that Rollo was a “sound prop” and that Cowan, who would join rugby league after the 1962 Lions tour to South Africa, had been the find of the tour.

From there, it was back to the farm for Rollo, via Nairobi, where he caught up with his cousin Edward Rollo and a member of a Cupar sawmill family, Willie Law, who had been his first captain when he started playing for the Howe.

He faced South Africans again in his international career, twice more for Scotland in 1961 and 1965 at Murrayfield, and on the 1962 Lions tour to South Africa. On the Lions tour, Rollo played in 13 games – 11 of which the Lions won with only a defeat to Eastern Transvaal and a draw with Northern Universities on the debit side. The presence of Syd Millar had denied him a Test berth. Back in Scotland colours, the 1965 game saw Rollo achieve his first win against the Springboks, with a try by Jim Shackleton, converted by Stewart Wilson and a Davy Chisholm drop-goal, securing an 8-5 success for Scotland.

Rollo intends to travel to South Africa on the Lions tour there next year as part of his determination to share with his daughter Pat, the many places where he represented Scotland with such distinction.

Picture credit: Andrew Arbuckle, ‘David Rollo, Local Hero’

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