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The recent death of Kevin Skinner at 86, the celebrated All Black prop, resurrected the most famous series in New Zealand history, its first test win (1956) over the mighty Springboks. Skinner is the name most fans remember among that outstanding XV because it was he, that legend recalls, who halted the rough play of the South Africans, especially, the clobbering in the line outs. Skinner was eminently qualified to deter the Boks' forwards, he was the 1947 New Zealand Heavyweight Boxing Champion.
Background – South Africa
By 1956, the Springboks enjoyed a sixty-year skein of winning every home and away test series, not having lost since 1896 against a British touring side. In those six-decades, the team won 37, lost 15, and drew five, outscoring the opposition 597 to 334. In their UK tour of 1951/1952, they went 30-1, losing only to London Counties. South Africa was acknowledged as the dominant rugby XV in the world.
Background – New Zealand
The proud All Blacks could point to winning tests against all other nations except South Africa. The previous results up to that 1956 test against the Bokkies follow:
Year Won Lost Draw
1921 1 1 1
1928 2 2 0
1937 1 2 0
1949 0 4 0
The 1949 test sweep away devastated the rugby psyche of the nation. The only emotional or spiritual equivalent would have been a grievous war rout, and a humiliating surrender. For years, the country waited for the 1956 series at home when the All Blacks would play against a South African side that many in New Zealand perceived won in 1949 because of bad referring by locals, and also the unnecessary rough play of the pack.
Enter Kevin Skinner
Skinner, a six foot, loosehead prop, played in 63 tests winning 20 caps, two as captain. He had been on the humbling 1949 tour. He had a notable provincial rugby career before moving up to the national side. He retired in 1954, but injuries to the two props in the 1956 test caused him to come out of retirement. New Zealanders had lived for this moment, and the nation grew anxious when the four-game series was tied at one win each. (NZ 10 vs. 6, SA 8 vs.3). The first two games had been marred by rough play.
The Third Test
Only a win in this third contest could insure an All Blacks’ series win and not a 2-2 tie result. Skinner was brought in at loosehead. His de facto mission was to stop the physical domination of the two roughest South Africa forwards, Jaap Bekker and Chris Koch. The first flare up occurred early in the game and in the lineout. Skinner would not stand by and let Koch barge through; he one punched him in the nose. Koch stopped the barging. In the second half, Skinner switched to tight head prop, when, after Bekker made threats, Skinner socked him also. Bekker also retreated. Result: New Zealand 17-South Africa 10. The All Blacks would win the final contest 11-5, and celbertate its first test series victory against the Springboks. The nation rejoiced.
(Access the video to see and hear more of this historic 1956 test match black and white video and interviews with some of the players.)