Hamilton game cancelled, 25 July 1981 (2.5mb)
Protestors invade Rugby Park: a very public protest
In the tour opener at Gisborne, anti-tour protesters had managed to break through a perimeter fence but were prevented from occupying the field and disrupting the match.
Three days later, Rugby Park in Hamilton was packed as the Ranfurly Shield holders prepared to take on the Springboks. A total of 535 police officers were present in the city. With disrupting matches seen as a cornerstone of any protest action, the Waikato Rugby Union had taken extra precautions to prevent a possible pitch invasion.
The protest planners had also been busy, buying more than 200 tickets for the game to ensure that protesters could make their presence known from within the ground. As it was a Saturday, more people were able to protest, and around 5000 gathered at Garden Place to march on Rugby Park. Plans had been made to tear down perimeter fencing and flood the pitch with protesters. Shortly before kick-off about 350 protesters invaded the pitch, as one of them remembers.
Ripping down the fence took about 10 seconds – it was very fast, the crowd on the bank pulled away from us and a flood of people went through and onto the ground. We ran under the goalposts into the middle. I remember the priests struggling with a bloody big cross.
Police formed a cordon around this group, which had linked arms to form a solid block in the middle of the pitch. Police arrested about 50 of them over a period of an hour but were becoming increasingly concerned that they could not control the rugby crowd. Skirmishes broke out and objects were hurled at the protesters.
It was terrifying, I don’t know how big the crowd was, but they were clearly furious – bottles and God knows what else were hurled at us, and people kept trying to get onto the pitch. The police looked vulnerable as they spread out around the whole ground.
Reports were also coming in that Pat McQuarrie had stolen a light plane from Taupo and was heading for the stadium. While there was confusion as to his intentions, the police decided that the situation was getting out of hand and cancelled the match for security reasons.
The ground announcement of this decision was greeted with howls of protest and chants of, ‘We want rugby! We want rugby!’ This was also the cue for a number of spectators to attack protesters with fists, boots, cans and bottles. The police eventually ushered the protesters from the ground, with enraged spectators lashing out at them as they ran the gauntlet.
All of this drama was captured live on TV and the images were beamed around the world, including to South Africa, where fans had got up in the early morning to watch the match.
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