Anti-Springbok protesters block Hamilton match

25 July 1981

Reverend George Armstrong addresses police (Alexander Turnbull Library, EP/1981/2598/28A-F)

Anti-tour demonstrators invaded Hamilton’s Rugby Park, forcing the abandonment of the Springboks–Waikato match.

Rugby Park was packed for the first Saturday match of the controversial tour. More than 500 police officers were present in the city. The authorities were unaware, however, that protest organisers had bought several hundred tickets for the game. Shortly before kick-off, several hundred more invaded the pitch after ripping down a boundary fence.

Police formed a cordon around this group, which had linked arms in the middle of the pitch. They eventually arrested about 50 of them, but were concerned about their ability to hold back angry rugby fans.

Meanwhile, Pat McQuarrie had stolen a light plane from Taupō and was thought to be heading for the stadium. With his intentions unclear, the police cancelled the match. This announcement was greeted with chants of, ‘We want rugby!’ Spectators attacked protesters as the police ushered them from the ground.

The drama was viewed live in South Africa and gave comfort to incarcerated opponents of apartheid, including Nelson Mandela. 

See extract from the 1983 documentary Patu!, featuring coverage of the Hamilton game (NZ On Screen):