Rugby: 10 Games Played in Outrageous Conditions

Jeff Cheshire@@jeff_cheshireAnalyst IIFebruary 12, 2012

Rugby: 10 Games Played in Outrageous Conditions

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    Rugby is a game played in all conditions—rain, hail or shine, to use the common phrase. 

    Games are rarely delayed due to things such as the weather, while a postponement of a top-level game is almost unheard of.

    But that's exactly what happened this weekend, as the Stade De France ground—where France were supposed to meet Ireland for their Six Nations encounter—was deemed too dangerous to play on.

    Such an occurrence is very rare, and may even be a first for a test match. Certainly there have been games played in just as bad, if not worse conditions. There has been snow, hurricanes, floods and even darkness, but none have stopped the rugby being played. 

    This list looks at 10 of these games, each famous in its own right and in most cases more so for the conditions in which they were played than the events of the games themselves.

10. 1939 Southland vs Manawatu (Ranfurly Shield Challenge)

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    Southland's 1939 Ranfurly Shield defence against Manawatu was certainly one that fits the description of outrageous conditions.

    The game was played on a field covered in snow. While playing rugby in the snow isn't unheard of, this instance was particularly special. Not only was there snow set on the field, the whole field was covered in a blanket of white, with parts of the ground buried under 10 inches of snow. 

    Southland would go on to win the game 17-3 and retain New Zealand's most coveted rugby prize.

9. 1974 All Blacks vs Wallabies

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    Unfortunately, there wasn't any photo or video footage of this game online, but the first test between the All Blacks and the Wallabies in 1974 was one memorable for its atrocious conditions.

    Winds of up to 50 mph swept up the field, while heavy rain fell for the entirety of the game—so much so that large pools of water were visible on the field. Truly awful conditions, making quality rugby almost impossible to play.

    As it was, the Wallabies led their archrivals 6-3 at the break after playing into the strong wind, before turning around and letting their lead slip, going on to lose 11-6. Perhaps this is as remarkable as the conditions itself—it's a rarity for the team playing into the wind to win both halves, but in these conditions it becomes even more of an amazing feat.

8. 2012 France vs Ireland

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    This game does contradict the headline as it wasn't actually played, but given that it was the inspiration for this article, it deserves a mention.

    France and Ireland were due to meet at Stade De France in Paris for their Six Nations matchup. 

    But with temperatures at -5 degrees Celsius and a wind chill factor of -11 degrees Celsius, the game was to be postponed due to the danger a frozen pitch would cause the players.

    When this game will take place remains unknown at this stage, but a break weekend in the draw seems the most likely time. 

    Very few rugby games are cancelled for conditions issues, especially at the top level, making this game right at home amongst a list of games played, or not played, in outrageous conditions.

7. 1989 All Blacks vs Llanelli

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    One of the most dominant teams of all time, Buck Shelford's All Blacks, faced one of their toughest assignments during a mid-week match against Llanelli at Stradley Park on their 1989 tour to Wales and Ireland.

    Heading into the game, the All Blacks were heavily favoured, but as gale-force winds began to sweep the city on game day, there was an extra factor to take into account and the win was no longer a given.

    The visiting side held an 11-0 lead at the break, having played with the wind behind them. Many questioned whether this would be enough, given that the wind looked to be worth more than this.

    But as it happened, the wind was so strong that Llanelli found it would carry the ball too far whenever they kicked it, making it hard to gain any field position and handing the ball back to the All Blacks.

    The All Blacks played a tight game and would go on to win.

    Perhaps the conditions are best illustrated through a 22-metre drop-out from Grant Fox, where upon making contact with the ball, it was blown back over his head.

    Highlights from the game can be seen towards the end of the video attached, courtesy of The Good, The Bad and The Rugby.

6. 1995 Springboks vs France (Rugby World Cup Semifinal)

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    The 1995 Rugby World Cup semifinal between the host nation South Africa and France will go down as one of the most memorable in World Cup history, but not necessarily for what happened on the field.

    In the hours before the game, torrential rain was to fall, leaving the ground flooded with pools of water all over the field.

    Despite the efforts of the many South Africans to clear the field of the water, the game was delayed in the hope that the rain would cease and the field would be in some sort of condition to play on come kick-off time.

    The Springboks certainly didn't want the game called off as it would have resulted in France progressing to the final due to a better disciplinary record so far in the tournament.

    But they needn't have worried, as eventually the skies cleared and the Springboks went on to win a controversial semifinal by 19-15. It was a messy game, where handling was hard by an undoubtedly very greasy ball. 

    It's funny how much of a role conditions can play in sports. Just think, had the rain not stopped, the win would have been given to France and the heroics performed by the Springboks the next weekend would have never happened.

5. 2006 Crusaders vs Hurricanes (Super 14 Final)

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    The best game I never saw. 

    That was the catchphrase of many after the 2006 Super 14 Final at Jade Stadium between the Crusaders and Hurricanes. 

    An hour prior to the game, a mist set in around the ground, so strong that seeing from one side of the field to the other became virtually impossible. Even the television cameras struggled, having to film the entire game from ground level, as play was too obscured by mist from the higher cameras. The commentators too struggled, having to switch to the sideline commentator when the play moved to the far side of the field from the commentary box. 

    Play was hard in these conditions, with high balls proving difficult to field, whilst any sort of expansive play became a rarity.

    Casey Laulala scored the only try of the game, won by the Crusaders 16-9.

4. 1961 All Blacks vs France

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    Nowadays, Wellington is the home of the Super 15 franchise, the Hurricanes, named due to the strong winds often experienced around the area.

    But in 1961, the Wellington test between the All Blacks and France was played in a near-hurricane.

    80 mph winds swept Athletic Park, as the two teams did battle in what rugby historians describe as an amazing match that was completely dominated by the conditions.

    Few were brave enough to watch from the Millard Stand, the site of the photograph on this slide. Perhaps this shows just how strong these winds were—fans not turning up to an All Blacks test in New Zealand certainly is a rarity, particularly in those days.

    The game was won by New Zealand 5-3, with particularly famous instances summing up the events.

    The first coming when French kicker Pierre Albaladejo went to clear the ball from his own 25-yard line, only for it to be blown back over the dead ball line. The second coming when Don Clarke landed a conversion 10 yards in from touch, in which he aimed the ball at the corner flag before having it swept over the posts by the wind, proving to be the difference between the two teams.

3. 1981 All Blacks vs Springboks

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    The 1981 Springbok tour of New Zealand remains one of the most controversial events in the history of sports, or indeed of history in general.

    It split New Zealand in half, as anti-tour groups protested the decision to allow it to go ahead, after apartheid had seen every other nation refuse to play host or travel to South Africa. 

    But of all the games, the third test remains the most famous and was certainly played in outrageous conditions.

    While there were protesters at every game of the tour, this game took it one step further as planes flew low over the field.

    And not only did they fly over the field, they dropped bombs. Flour bombs to be exact, making play very dangerous as being struck by one of these could potentially be fatal.

    As it was, All Black prop Gary Knight was struck, although no one was seriously injured—something that was more luck than management.

    The participants of the infamous game have commented on the difficulties of playing under such circumstances, with the thought that a flour bomb could be falling always in the back of their mind, making it hard to concentrate on the game.

    The game itself was a classic as All Blacks kicker, Allan Hewson, kicked a penalty goal in injury time to secure a 25-22 win, giving New Zealand a 2-1 series win. 

    But on this occasion, the rugby will always be the second story and the game will forever be known as 'The Flower Bomb Test.'

2. 1978 All Blacks vs Scotland

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    It is amazing to think that a test match could ever be played in darkness.

    But that is just what happened in 1978 as the All Blacks set out to complete their first Grand Slam with a game against Scotland at Murrayfield.

    Scottish winters can bring short hours of sunlight, with parts of the country being completely shrouded in darkness by mid-afternoon.

    This was one of those instances, and by the time the game kicked off at 2:10 in the afternoon, it was almost dark. With no floodlights in these days, there was no way to light the ground so the test was played in almost complete darkness, with visibility becoming worse every minute.

    The All Blacks would win the game 18-9 and claim their first Grand Slam.

    But on this particular day, the story revolved around the conditions in which the game was played.

    The television cameras were able to enhance the lighting for the audiences watching at home, but even they struggled as the game wore on and the darkness became more intense.

    Possibly the best indicator of the darkness comes from the actions of All Blacks captain, Graham Mourie. After Bruce Robertson ran in to score a try, Mourie, trailing some distance behind unable to tell who had scored, ran over to Bryan Williams and said, "Great try Beegee." This above all, shows the difficulty of playing rugby, or indeed any sport, in the dark. 

1. 1975 All Blacks vs Scotland

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    Of all the games played in outrageous conditions, the 1975 test between the All Blacks and Scotland takes the cake. 

    Nicknamed 'The Waterpolo Test', this game was played on a field that was literally submerged in water. Had Scotland not been scheduled to fly home the following day, the match would have almost certainly been postponed.

    Indeed the rain was so bad and the field so flooded that there were genuine concerns that someone may have drowned had they been pinned face down at the bottom of a ruck. Had Scotland not been scheduled to fly home the following day, the match would have almost certainly been postponed.

    The conditions made for possibly the messiest game of rugby ever played, with players constantly over-running the ball, as it would stop suddenly in the water. 13 penalties were awarded during the game, but neither team opted to kick for goal during the entire game, showing the difficulty of having to get the ball up out of the flood on the ground. 

    The All Blacks went on to win 24-0, showing a very high skill-level in the conditions. Bryan Williams scored two tries, while Sid Going delivered a Man of the Match performance.