The Times We Lived In: Calm before storm of controversial clash

Published: January 10th, 1970Photograph: Jack McManus

JUST another rugby team? Not exactly. For one thing, look at where they’re posing for their team photo: in a dark and dingy corner of Lansdowne Road, backed up – literally – against a wall.

At the top of the wall, meanwhile, a pair of gardaí are gazing down at the proceedings. This was not just another rugby match. It was a match between Ireland and an all-white South African Springboks team at the height of the anti-apartheid movement.

“No previous international played in this country presents so many imponderables as the meeting of Ireland and South Africa at Lansdowne Road today,” wrote Paul MacWeeney in this newspaper on the morning of the game.

The match stats were to prove him correct, for they were pretty unusual: 30,000 supporters inside the ground, 3,000 anti-apartheid protestors outside, 1,000 gardaí on duty.


The protesters came from all walks of life. On the site of Nelson’s Pillar in O’Connell Street, Catholic and Church of Ireland clerical and divinity students mounted a 24-hour vigil and fast on the grounds that apartheid ran counter to the teaching of Jesus. For those of a more secular/jocular persuasion, “Boks amach” was the slogan du jour.

No wonder the players and match officials in our photo sport expressions which range from grim to apprehensive and back again.

But there are plenty of famous faces among them.

They are: back row, left to right; Ted Grierson (referee), Fergus Slattery, Ronnie Lamont, Willie John McBride, Ken Goodall, C. E. Campbell, Phil O'Callaghan, Ken Clark (touch judge), Kevin D Kelleher (touch judge). Front row (left to right) Ken Kennedy, Barry McGann, Mike Gibson, Tom Kiernan (Captain), Syd Millar, Roger Young, Barry Bresnihan. Seated on the ground are Alan Duggan and William Brown.

The match wasn’t exactly a classic; the teams finished level at 8-8. It would take another 25 years for apartheid to finally come to an end. So when Ireland plays South Africa on November 8th, the opening match of the upcoming 2014 Guinness series, we can hope for a more relaxed and sporting encounter – in all senses of the words.

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