Rugby Weather: Scotland in the Rain

The All Blacks were due to play Scotland in Auckland on 14 June 1975 when a major storm hit New Zealand. Torrential rain fell over many parts of the country inundating farmland from Northland to Canterbury. Roads in Northland were cut by floodwaters metres deep and the Mangakahia River rose 10 metres above normal.

Tragically, a 12 year old boy drowned on Auckland’s North Shore when he slipped into a flooded stream and was washed into a culvert. Surface flooding occurred in parts of Auckland. A million dollars worth of stock was destroyed when water entered the basement of a Nestlé’s warehouse and an old lake reformed in Remuera which proved suitable for dingy sailors while it lasted.

A tornado struck near Huntly, in the Waikato, knocking over a line of power poles and destroying a hay barn, parts of which flew over the heads of children playing nearby. A service station at Waerenga was ripped apart and a number of houses damaged. Fallen trees cut roads and brought down power and phone lines in many other parts of the country.

Slips and floodwaters cut roads in the Coromandel and some small boats were washed away at Te Kaha when large waves ran up beyond the high tide mark.

Cook Strait ferry sailings were cancelled due to the high winds around Wellington. Waves washed away shingle undercutting the railway line to the Hutt Valley and roads were closed at the northern end of the harbour by seas washing driftwood and seaweed over them.

The railway line between New Plymouth and Wanganui was cut by a washout while a slip closed the main trunk line south of Kaikoura. Slips also blocked the roads through the Buller Gorge and the Kawerau Gorge. Snow fell over inland Canterbury with 18cm accumulating on the road at Porter’s Pass and 46cm at Burke’s Pass.

At Auckland’s Eden Park, around 75mm of rain had fallen by kickoff. The ground had sold out but 10,000 spectators stayed away. Some spectators had to walk through ankle deep water to get to their seats. Consideration was given to postponing the game but conditions were not expected to be a lot better the next day and the Scots were booked to fly home on the Monday.

So the game went ahead although the referee blew up the rucks very quickly to avoid anyone drowning under a crush of bodies. The All Blacks turned on some great wet weather rugby winning 24-0. The first try was the result of a running move but the other three came from the classic tactic of kick and chase exploiting mistakes in the defence’s handling of the wet ball.

The ground held up surprisingly well and did not turn into a quagmire. Although the ball was slippery, it did not become so heavy as to prevent Joe Karam converting all of the All Blacks tries.

In the early days of rugby, wet balls often became hard to kick over the cross-bar. In the famous mud-battle at Athletic Park between the All Blacks and the Anglo-Welsh in 1908 the game finished a 3-3 draw when the visitor’s goal-kicker failed to convert a try between the posts as he barely raised the sodden ball out of the mud.

Wet weather used to be regarded as the great equaliser, giving a lesser team a chance against a stronger team. However, the introduction of synthetic balls in the 1980s restored the advantage. As well as being waterproof these new balls had thousands of dimples on their surface to improve the players grip when the ball was wet.

A classic example of the standard of play now possible on a wet ground was seen in the first tri-nations test played between the All Blacks and the Wallabies at Athletic Park in a wet southerly on 6 July 1996. The All Blacks ran in 6 tries to none winning 43-6 and were denied a chance at 50 points when the referee ended the game 3 minutes early when they were hot on attack.

Rugby’s ability to live with the rain has also improved enormously with modern turf engineering which allows the top test venues to drain water away at a rate undreamt of by previous generations. Nevertheless, extreme rainfalls from a thunderstorm can exceed 100mm in an hour so if a thunderstorm parked itself in just the right place at just the wrong time it could still cause trouble. Except, of course, in Dunedin where they have gone for the ultimate solution and put a roof over the ground.