In Motion and Isolation: The Try - A Snapshot of 1977's Controversial Rugby Clash

In Motion and Isolation: The Try - A Snapshot of 1977's Controversial Rugby Clash

'The Try', Springboks vs British Lions an artwork by Vladimir Tretchikoff, may initially appear as a straightforward representation of the dynamic and perpetual motion in sports. Tretchikoff, not widely known for his sporting paintings, aimed to capture the vivacity and excitement of the spectators and the event, in contrast to the static images seen in newspapers' photo-finish shots. The figures in this piece are in constant movement, reflecting the essence of sports in a more animated form. However, "The Try" carries a deeper, more profound political undertone.


Created in 1977, this artwork coincided with the momentous Test series between the British and Irish Lions and the Springboks at Newlands, a tour that divided the world. This series was unique because South Africa had been enduring international isolation due to its apartheid policies. The decision of the Lions, led by Bill Beaumont, to tour apartheid South Africa drew widespread international condemnation. John Robbie, the Lions scrumhalf at the time, who was just 24 years old, later reflected on the controversial decision.

He expressed his belief that touring South Africa during a period when the country was under the oppressive rule of apartheid was fundamentally wrong. His sentiments were shared by fellow Irishman Tony Ward, who played a crucial role in the opening Test at Newlands, which the Springboks won 26-22. Ward's experience during the tour was so disheartening that he refused to tour South Africa with Ireland when they had the opportunity to do so a year later.


However, the Lions' tour, despite its moral and political implications, marked a significant moment in South African rugby. The country had long been deprived of proper international competition due to its isolation, with the 1974 Lions under Willie John McBride delivering a crushing defeat. The anticipation for this 1977 series was immense among the local rugby establishment, and it showcased the extent to which isolation had frozen the talent within South African rugby. At Newlands, where "The Try" takes its symbolic meaning, the thawing of this isolation was palpable. The South African team demonstrated their prowess, scoring five tries, a testament to their hidden potential. In contrast, the Lions could manage only a solitary effort, thanks to Graham Price.


The artwork, with its perpetual motion and the intense rugby action it captures, encapsulates this significant moment when the rugby world converged on the rugby pitch in South Africa, ignoring international pressures and shining a light on the Apartheid regime. "The Try" by Tretchikoff serves as a reminder of the complex and controversial history of international sports during a tumultuous era.

It reflects the duality of a sporting event's excitement and the socio-political issues that often surround it, encapsulating a moment when the world's attention was drawn to South Africa's sporting isolation and the consequences of defying that isolation.

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