A storming game for the Junior Springboks by flyhalf Norman Riley at Springs secured his place for the third Test against the touring Australian team in 1963 after South Africa had lost the second Test at Newlands 5-9, and wholesale changes to the Springbok team were implemented by a panicking selection panel.
Earlier in the season he had played a steady game for Eastern Transvaal in the tourists’ opening fixture, also at Springs, which the tourists won 14-0.
The Junior Springboks had won their fixture 9-5 and Riley found himself in the third Test a week later, one of eight replacements, along with four other debutantes.
One of the scapegoats for South Africa’s loss in the third Test was Keith Oxlee, considered at the time as one of the all-time greats of Springbok rugby, and so Riley had big shoes to fill. Other players to lose their places were Mannetjies Roux on the wing, centre Wang Wyness, Piet Uys at scrumhalf, skipper Abie Malan at hooker, Dick Putter at prop, Lofty Nel at flank and Doug Hopwood at eighthman. The captaincy issue that winter was another problem, with both Abie Malan (first, second and fourth matches) and lock Avril Malan (third Test), taking over as skipper during an unsettling series.
In for the third Test with Riley were the late Gert Cilliers (wing), Dave Stewart (centre), Nelie Smith at scrumhalf, Ronnie Hill at hooker, Hannes Marais at prop, the late Johan Schoeman at flank and Poens Prinsloo at number eight. Smith, Marais, Schoeman and Prinsloo were all also making their Test debuts.
Riley, an attacking flyhalf, now enjoying retirement at Shelley Beach on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast, says the experience of playing in his only Test match was “not a pleasant time.” Skipper Avril Malan would only call him by his surname, and any ideas on attack he had during practice sessions were quickly scuppered by other senior players.
The game was narrowly lost 9-11 by South Africa who were under intense pressure in the fourth Test to retain their unbeaten series record at home during the 20th Century.
Riley, Prinsloo, Marais, Fanie Kuhn (prop), Hill, Avril Malan and Jannie Engelbrecht were all dumped for the fourth match in another wholesale selection switch. Oxlee was recalled and South Africa won 22-6 to gain them a 2-2 draw in the hard-fought series, and preserve their record.
Riley, a fine all-round sportsman, also played hockey and cricket at first-class level and played for a number of provinces at each sport.
- Peter Martin