SOME Southland rugby old timers are taking a trip down memory lane at the moment.
The French Barbarians will take on the Highlanders in Invercargill tomorrow night. It is a prelude to the All Blacks versus France third test in Dunedin on Saturday night.
Tomorrow night’s showdown won’t attract the 21,000 people who turned up for the 1979 Southland-France fixture, and it won’t bring the city’s productivity levels to a standstill the same way the thrilling 1989 Southland-France contest did.
But that aside, tomorrow night’s occasion has prompted many former Southland representatives to recall those glory days when visiting French rugby teams came to Invercargill.
It included Southland’s 12-11 victory in 1979 and the 12-7 win against France in 1989.
Ian Donaldson played on the wing for Southland in the victory almost 40 years ago and it is a day he still recalls vividly.
“That was the highlight of my career. The province stopped that day.
“There were 21,000 people there, it’s hard to fathom now isn’t it? But I do remember it very vividly, running out on to Rugby Park and having shivers down my spine because of that crowd.
“I looked around and I knew we were up for it. No one said anything, but I knew we were ready for it, just with the power of the crowd that day,” Donaldson said.
Brian McKechnie captained the 1979 Southland team and kicked two penalty goals and a conversion in the win against what was largely France’s test team.
It came just a matter of days after McKechnie was part of the New Zealand cricket team which was beaten by England in England in the semi-finals of a World Cup.
Since that famous 12-11 win over France, some members of the triumphant Southland team have gone on to play important leadership roles within the Southland sporting community – Donaldson included.
Donaldson has previously been chief executive of Sport Southland, is a life member of the Appleby Cricket Club and has also been heavily involved in many sporting projects through his business Teamwork South Ltd.
That 1979 game will be recognised tomorrow night when the French Barbarians play the Highlanders at Rugby Park.
Leicester Rutledge, who played on the flank for Southland in 1979, will join son Jason, a former Highlander, and Leicester’s grandchildren in making a special presentation to the French Barbarians team.
The presentation will follow the national anthems, which will be performed by Cheryl Anderson and Sophie Morris.
The Highlanders arrive in Invercargill today and the public have an opportunity to mix with the players at the H & J Smith department store from 12.30pm to 1.30pm.
Female rugby will also be thrust into the spotlight tomorrow night with six teams playing a curtain-raiser tournament at Rugby Park.
The six teams are under-15 10-a-side girls’ teams from Winton’s Central Southland College (two teams), James Hargest College, Southland Girls’ High School, Verdon College and Eastern.
The Highlanders v French Barbarians game will kick off at 7.35pm.
THE teams which met in Southland’s famous 12-11 win over France in 1979
Southland: Jeff Gardiner, Ian Donaldson, Wayne Boynton, Garry Bennetts, Murray Mitchell, Brian McKechnie (captain), Wayne Tinker, Ash McGregor, Ken Stewart, Leicester Rutledge (replaced by Bruce Robertson), Fergus Dermody, Murray Howe, Phill Butt, Dave Saunders, Doug Murcott
France: Serge Blanco, Frederic Costes, Michel Duffrane, Patrick Meeny, Laurent Pardo, Guy Laporte, Jerome Gallion, Patrick Salas, Jean-Pierre Rives (captain), Francois Haget, Alain Maleig, Jean-Lue Joinel, Robert Paparemborde, Jean-Francious Perche, Daniel Dubroca