Today marks the centenary of Swansea RFC's famous win over the touring South Africans at St Helens. Join us as we take a trip down memory lane...
Having not had the opportunity of facing Paul Roos’ first South African tourists in 1906, Swansea were determined to make the most of the fixture against Billy Millar’s side in 1912.
The match was keenly anticipated in Wales. The 2nd Springboks had cut a triumphant swathe through the cream of English club and county sides, playing 20 games up and down the country. In addition, they’d beaten Scotland, Ireland and a North of England side (twice) as well as the strong West Country sides and East midlands and Midland Counties. They had their colours lowered just twice. The first time was in an early foray into Wales at Rodney parade on October 24th when Newport claimed the Springbok Head by inflicting the first defeat (9 – 3) on the tourists. The Springboks preceded this defeat by victories in Wales over Monmouthshire, Glamorgan and Llanelli. The only other loss was to a London side at Twickenham (10 – 8) in the 14th match of the tour.
The South Africans returned to the Principality in December to defeat Wales, Neath and Cardiff. Swansea were to be the 24th opponent leaving only matches against Gloucestershire, England and France to complete the tour card. Swansea were the only unbeaten side in Wales at the time but were hampered by a series of injuries. Forward Alf Thomas had suffered a knee injury and was joined on the sick list by the in-form man in the Swansea pack Rev. Alban Davies. This was a big blow to the Whites as the 1912 Springboks brought a stronger set of forwards with them than the first tourists and had run amuck all over the kingdom.
Also missing from the Swansea side were backs Bryn Lewis and Willie Davies (who was under suspension under allegations of professionalism when playing for Plymouth) and the full back and big points kicker Jack Bancroft. The week before, Swansea had put a makeshift side out at St Helens to face rivals Newport, having to play forward Tom Williams in the three-quarter line (it was mooted to play him at stand-off at one point). The only good news was that their inspirational captain W J “Billy” Trew had passed fit to play the tourists. The young half-back pairing of Sid Jerram and Oswald Jenkins were trialled again in the biggest match of their lives.
In horrendous weather, with much of the pitch under water, the South Africans coming onto the pitch, amused the crowd by dribbling the ball through huge puddled where it disappeared into the water. Any other match would have been called off but Swansea were not to be denied the chance to have a go at the men from South Africa. The conditions favoured forward play if the forwards could get the tactics right in the downpour. A crowd of 35,000 had squeezed into the ground, the largest attendance of the whole tour.
How the match was played can be read in the supplementary match report inserted into this commemorative programme. The result depended upon the guile of the superb tactician Billy Trew, who marshalled his forces to the situation in front of him, at one point removing forwards into the three quarter line to stop rushes by the Springbok forwards. An unconverted try by Swansea forward D J Thomas in the first half, secured the win, but only through the heroic defence of a Swansea side who were reduced to 14 men for a large portion of the game. Swansea went on to become CHAMPIONS OF WALES for the 1912-13 season.
The South Wales Daily Post summed it all up saying:
“It is really a great accomplishment when it is realised that the Swanseaites are a team of working men, who were opposed to the pick of South Africa: a team whose grand physique and exceptional speed have made them one of the most powerful combinations which has ever toured this country.”
BELOW IS A REPRODUCTION OF THE MATCH REPORT FEATURED IN THE WESTERN MAIL ON 27TH DECEMBER 1912
SWANSEA’S GREAT VICTORY.
HARD-FOUGHT CONTEST AT ST HELENS - AFRICANS’ LAST WELSH MATCH.
HOME PLAYER’S DAMAGED NOSE - SPECTATORS INCENSED AT INCIDENT.
Even worse than the conditions which made memorable the game between Cardiff and the Springboks six years ago were those under which Thursday’s match was played between Swansea and the South Africans. The ground was practically under water, and but for the importance of the fixture and the number of people attracted to the St. Helen’s ground there is no doubt that the game would have been called off.
Three changes were made in the South African side from that which defeated Cardiff on Saturday, Dobbin taking the place of Immelman at half-back, while Ledger and “Boy” (W. H.) Morkel took the places of Braine and Van Vuuren in the forwards. All the men who turned out yesterday had played in international matches. Swansea fielded their best available side, Tom Williams taking the place of Alb. Thomas in the centre, while Jerram and Oswald Jenkins were given a further trial in partnership at half. Swansea were weakened through the illness of the Rev. Alban Davies, who has been playing on the top of his form I the recent matches, and George Evans took his place.
I have seen the St. Helen’s ground for the last 30 years, and have reviewed many matches played on it, but I have never seen it in such a state as it was this afternoon. It was dotted all over with miniature lakes, which would have made it almost possible to sail a model yacht upon. A perfect deluge of rain had fallen during the morning, and it was not surprising, under the circumstances, that the playing area was in such a state. To expect good football on such a ground was to expect impossibility, and it was hard to decide whether the prevailing conditions would be favourable to one side more than the other. It would be nearer the truth to say they were entirely unfortunate to both teams. Rain poured down incessantly, but this did not prevent people pouring into the ground in their hundreds, and some thousands stood on the “tanner” bank for an hour before the time of starting the play, the famous bank presenting the appearance of a forest of umbrellas.
The weather improved slightly ten minutes before kicking off, the sun shining brightly. A few minutes from the time of kicking off there were quite 30,000 people on the ground. The gate was a record for the whole tour of the Springboks. Millar led the way dead on time, and the Africans created amusement by dribbling the ball through a pool of water.
Swansea having won the toss, elected to play from the Mumbles end, and from the kick-off by Douglas Morkel the ball rolled over the goal-line and was touched down. From the kick-out the ball fell into one of the biggest pools, and from the scrum which followed the lineout one of the Swansea forwards got off-side, and a free-kick was given to the Springboks, from which Gerald Morkel found touch inside the Swansea 25. Hayward was now brought out of the Swansea pack, and from a scrum in front of the Swansea goal-line “Boy” Morkel received the ball, but was well tackled in his attempt to break through.
A grand dribble by the Swansea forwards took the ball over the South Africans’ line, and D.J. Thomas, making a splendid effort, scored a well-deserved try, which Oswald Jenkins could not hope to convert. The African forwards now played up desperately, but one of their rushes was frustrated by Trew picking up and kicking out to Gerald Morkel, who was tackled before he could gather and pass back to Stegmann. The Africans went in entirely for forward rushes, and carried play to the Swansea 25, where a penalty was given against the all whites, and the ball was placed for Douglass Morkel, who made a good, but ineffective, attempt to land a penalty goal. George Hayward kicked back to Gerald Morkel, who found touch on the Swansea 25 line. Play was now territorially in favour of the Africans, and Swansea had a narrow escape from a forward rush, but one of the Swansea forwards kicked up to G. Morkel, who made a mark in front of the goal, but Douglas Morkel failed to find the centre of the uprights, the ball being sent wide.
The Swansea men were kept on the defensive, but gained much needed relief from a penalty. The South African forwards seemed determined to draw level, and once again the ball was placed for Doug Morkel for a penalty, but again he failed with a kick from inside the home 25. Taking their cue from the Swansea forwards’ tactics, the south Africans put their superior weight into fierce forward rushes but were unable to achieve the same control of the ball as the home forwards.Swansea were penalised through Jerram picking out of the scrum, and Gerald Morkel gained a big piece of ground with the kick, Tom Williams put in some useful work with a good kick and follow up, and the interval was called with Swansea leading.
THE SECOND HALF.
The South Africans had a very strong breeze at their backs in the second half. In the first few minutes from the re-start they were called upon to defend, until Douglas Morkel came away with a fine dribble to the centre, where the ball rolled into touch. Using their greater weight and strength to advantage, the South Africans became aggressive through a forward rush, and the Swansea line was in immediate danger of being crossed until Oswald Jenkins dribbled back through his own 25, but the ball went into touch through a reply kick by McHardy. The first penalty in this half was given against the Springboks for off-side. Immediately afterwards one of the Swansea forwards was penalised for a similar offence. Gerald Morkel kicked high up to Oswald Jenkins, who took the ball with a safe pair of hands, and punted back into touch at the centre.
It was noticed that the South African forwards, when they had the choice of throwing out of touch, elected to scrimmage, and, having gained a hold in the Swansea 25, they went in for heeling. Another penalty against Swansea was taken by Douglas Morkel, who put in a lovely kick, but sent the ball just outside. The kick-out was charged down by Millar, and the ball rolled over the line from the rebound and was kicked to the railings by Gerald Morkel. Judicious kicking by the African backs enabled them to continue on the attack, and there was a momentary danger of a score for the Africans.
A YELL FROM THE CROWD.
There was a tremendous shout from the crowd when one of the Swansea players was damaged, but it was impossible from the press seat to see what happened. There were cries of “Send him off,” and Howel Lewis, the injured player, had to leave the field. Tom Williams gained relief with a kick. In the next minute the South African forwards dribbled over the Swansea line, and Stegmann threw himself on the ball but the referee ruled that Trew had touched down before him.
Although playing one man short, Swansea carried hostilities over the centre line, but they were driven back. Just after a penalty to Swansea, which enabled Oswald Jenkins to find touch, and from the line-out the Africans’ backs were set in motion, the ball travelling to Stegmann, who failed to hold his final transfer. Play was a scramble in the mud until Jerram broke away splendidly from the base of the scrum, and kicked into touch. Howel Lewis now returned amid cheers, It was one long continual struggle on the part of the African forwards, who broke through the defence, and several times came within an inch of scoring.
Once Stegmann was only pushed into touch a foot from the line. Still another penalty was given to the Africans, but Morkel again missed. The Africans were again hooted for tackling Trew after he had made his mark. The Springboks brought off the prettiest bout of the match, and McHardy again looked like going through with the ball at his feet, but Millar got off-side. Play was carried to the Swansea goal-line, and although the South Africans secured possession, their passing lost them half the length of the field. They returned to the attack, and Stegmann was given the ball, but was tackled ten yards from the line. Swansea had hard lines in being wrongly penalised, but they recovered their lost ground.
There now remained only about ten minutes to play, and Swansea were playing a strong defensive game. The excitement at this time was at its highest, and it all depended now if Swansea could hold their defence. Swansea, however, not only defended well, but they actually carried play into the African 25. There the Colonials were given a penalty. The Africans went in for high kicking, and in that way were able to make another raid on the home citadel. The crowd now began to leave the field in full anticipation of a home victory, but Swansea were not yet out of the wood. The Africans were playing a strong game, and made a desperate last minute effort, but the defence prevailed, and Swansea were left the victors of a hard fought game.
Before the end the crowd had already surged on the field, and were waiting for the final whistle excitedly. Immediately it sounded there was a tremendous outburst of cheering, and a rush was made for the home players, many of whom, though so dirty and muddy, were shouldered and carried to the pavilion, there being a great demand for Trew and young Jerram.
The teams were as follows:-
Swansea: Back, D Williams; three-quarter backs, Howel Lewis, W J Trew, T Williams, and F Williams; half-backs, S Jerram and Oswald Jenkins; forwards, D J Thomas, T Morgan, B Hollingdale, Edgar Morgan, Ben Williams, George Hayward, George Evans, and H Moulton.
South Africans: Back D Morkel; three-quarter backs, E McHardy, R Luyt, A Morkel, and J Stegmann; half-backs, F J Dobbin and Fred Luyt, Forwards, W A Millar, W H Morkel, J Thompson, F Knight, J A Francis, D Morkel, A Luyt, and R H Ledger.
PLAYERS’ CHARGE AGAINST AN AFRICAN OPPONENT.
An incident which might have ended in serious trouble was the nasty affair which resulted in Howel Lewis, the little Swansea wing, having to temporarily leave the field. Our Swansea reporter pressed the little all white winger after the contest to given (sic) some explanation of the affair, but at first he could not be induced to speak, but persistence later was rewarded. Howel Lewis, who was suffering considerable pain from the “accident”, which had been delivered right on the bridge of his nose, and had discoloured that organ greatly, and also was about twice as big as normally, said that he had received from one of the South Africans (whose name he would not divulge) the full force of the Colonial player’s two fists. The Swansea man, who was many stones lighter than the player who struck him, appealed for the game to be played fairly, whereupon he received another jab in the chest. This was too much for Lewis, who had to be assisted off the playing arena. The spectators were greatly incensed at this anything but sporting treatment, and it was perhaps just as well that Howel returned and Swansea won.