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Bring on the British Lions

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There is a story in the folk lore of Eastern Province rugby about the opening game against the 1980 British Lions that involved Dennis Campher a tough centre who had perfected the art of the crash tackle.

 EP had talented players in its ranks and they were up against a Lions team that many thought would win the 4 test series against the Springboks, who were back into international rugby for the first time since the 1976 All Black tour to South Africa.

Schalk Burger Snr fronted up the pack with Pote Human while the talented Gavin Cowley was at flyhalf. Dennis Campher the best crash tackler in the business was on his outside and Johan Heunis who was destined to become a great Springbok fullback in the 1980’s elder brother Chris, was also in the team.

The 1974 British Lions almost came unstuck against EP at one of the “Battles of the Boet Erasmus “

Cowley recalls playing in his 3rd match for EP and as a 20 yr old stood on one side as Stuart McKinney, Gordon Brown, Kerrie Van Eyk and George Barnard started a free for all.

EP was well known in South African rugby for winning the fight when the going got tough.  Although the Lions managed to win 28-14, the efforts of the men from Port Elizabeth earned them the right to play the opening game against the 1980 British Lions.

Teammates used to watch Dennis Campher warm up in the changing room with awe.  He would start head butting the wall then wrestle with team mates as motivation.

 Campher was known to be able to change a game.  Even the great Naas Botha was wary of receiving the ball when playing EP as Campher was known to push the law to the limit in his crash tackling defense methods.

 In a game against Northern Orange Free State at the Boet Erasmus stadium, the game was getting away from EP. NOFS were on the attack when Dennis Campher launched his counter attack.  Minutes later four Purple Panthers were lying on the ground writhing in pain after being tacked by Campher and the game’s momentum swung into EP’s favour

In 1980 he began screaming at a selector to open the changing room door because he was going to charge and sort out the British Lions before they even got onto the field. 

The Springboks are going to need a similar “gees” up front to beat the 2009 British Lions.

Somehow the Australians have got their scrum together and it was an unpleasant sight watching Springbok hopeful Jannie Du Plessis being shunted by Ben Alexander in the Sharks vs Waratahs game over the weekend.

John Smit stabilized matters when he replaced Du Plessis but the series against the Lions could be won or lost up front.

(Above:  John Smit, South Africa’ s World Cup winning captain will have to earn his spurs as a tighthead prop against the British Lions)

This view is echoed by Willie John McBride the victorious captain of the 1974 British Lions who said “I still think the team that scrummages is the team that prospers because you are going forward and you dictate the next play’.

“And that worries me a wee bit. I haven’t been impressed with the scrummaging during the Six Nations” he said in an interview with Paul Ackford “

 The Springboks have to dominate up front and the front row tussle could become a highlight of the series. 

Should the Bok front row be able to put the heat on, the British Lions can be beaten.  Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield will dominate Lions captain Paul O’ Connell who is being touted as the enforcer for the Lions.

 It is difficult to imagine Juan Smith, Schalk Burger and/or Heinrich Brussow not making an impact in the test series with Pierre Spies and Ryan Kankowski also keen to make their mark against the British Lions.  The last two tests are being played at altitude…..we have taken our home ground advantage………..Bring it on…….

(Above:  Pierre Spies will be determined to make his mark against the touring British Lions)

The team sheets for 1980 Eastern Province vs British Lions game were:

Eastern Province:

J P Pretorius; H L Potgieter, D Campher, H Lotz, C Heunis; G S Cowley, M R O’Shea; D J Olivier, J P Delport, J Ferreira, G Human, S W P Burger, M van der Merwe (captain), N Snyman, A Johnson Replacements: G van Zyl for Lotz (26 mins); T Kankowski for Potgieter (27 mins)

Scorers Tries: Heunis, Campher Conversion: Cowley Penalty Goals: Pretorius, Cowley

British/Irish Lions XV:

B H Hay; H E Rees, R W R Gravell, P J Morgan, M A C Slemen; W G Davies, T D Holmes; G Price, P J Wheeler, F E Cotton, W B Beaumont (captain), A J Martin, J Squire, J R Beattie, S M Lane Replacements: D L Quinnell for Lane (2 mins); J M Renwick for Davies (29 mins)

Scorers Tries: Slemen, Holmes, Rees Conversions: Davies, Renwick Penalty Goals: Davies (2), Renwick Dropped Goal: Davies

Referee S Strydom (Orange Free State)

Check out scrum.com for more rugby news.

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2 Responses

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  1. Read your piece about the 80 Lions playing EP. Any idea where I can get the EP team for that day in that opening game again Lions

    Gerhardt

    July 3, 2009 at 4:19 am

  2. Hi there Gerhardt.

    I will go through some of my old books from that time and see if I can find the team for you

    babobski

    July 3, 2009 at 10:07 am


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