On Saturday 17 September 1921, the deciding test of the first Springbok Tour was played at Wellington’s Athletic Park. New Zealand had won the first test 13-5 at Carisbrook and South Africa the second test 9-5 at Eden Park.
Unfortunately, after a long dry spell, rain began on the Friday evening and continued throughout the weekend. Of the 131mm that fell in Wellington, 42mm had fallen by the end of the match. Although the rain, which fell over a large part of the North Island, was welcome to farmers, it caused a number of slips and flooded parts of the Miramar Peninsula and the Hutt Valley. The Hutt River stayed within its banks but delivered the carcass of a dead horse to Petone Beach.
The Athletic Park ground had been hard after the dry spell and the rain could not easily drain away, resulting in several respectable sized lakes on the playing field. The curtain raiser was cancelled and the crowd had to entertain themselves.
The slippery clay on the western bank helped, as it became a great spectacle to watch people negotiate their way over its treacherous surface. Particularly those under the influence of liquid refreshments, some of whom came slithering down on their hands and knees. Part of the bank gave way, to the distress of a group of young women who came down with it, but generally the crowd was in good spirits despite being soaked.
Food fights broke out, mostly orange peel and banana skins but one crayfish was seen flying through the air. It landed on an umbrella and was partially impaled on the stick while the remains broke through the umbrella fabric and ended up in the victims lap.
Vendors were selling umbrellas outside the ground for 15 shillings and 6 pence, as against a normal week-day price of 3 shillings and 6 pence. Military surplus oilcloths were also on sale and wooden cases to sit or stand on cost 1s and 6d, rising to 3s and 6d as supplies ran low close to kick-off.
Fortunately, the wind was only a light southerly, but the rain was not conducive to good rugby. The game was described as more like water polo with the ball like grease and the ground turning into a veritable quagmire. It became a mud slog between the forwards. There was a lot of kicking and chasing, with the ball coming to an abrupt halt when it hit the deeper puddles.
One penalty shot for goal barely left the ground. A Springbok forward got over the New Zealand line but was on his back and could not force the ball before it was ripped out of his hands. An All Black back was in the clear with the South African line open but lost his footing in a small lake.
A brief interruption occurred in the second half when the referee slipped over and was accidently kicked in the head by a Springbok forward. He was able to continue but collapsed after the end of the game. His absence from the after match function sparked a rumour that he had died when he was actually safe at home in bed.
The Springboks were considered to have had the best of the first half and the All Blacks the best of the second half, but the game ended in a scoreless draw.
In a speech after the match the South African Manager said that he could not think of a happier ending to the tour -
“As our hosts, I am sure you would have been very unhappy if you had beaten us; as your guests we would have been very unhappy if we had beaten you. I can reflect the opinion of every one of you when I say that the best team drew.”