A team clad in all black ran on to Ellis Park, Johannesburg on April 23, 1986 to face opponents in green jerseys. It was (as you have doubtless deduced) New Zealand vs. South Africa, but not as it had been known before.
The match between the New Zealand Cavaliers and the Junior Springboks on that day 30 years ago was the moment at which the game's running sores of the 1980s, complicity in South African apartheid and the multiple hypocrisies involved in the struggle to preserve an increasingly untenable amateur ideology, came into direct conjunction.
The Cavaliers mostly were All Blacks in one sense. Twenty-eight of them had been chosen for the previous year's official tour of South Africa, which was cancelled when a judge imposed an injunction ruling that the contentious nature of contact with the Republic -- the Bok tour in 1981 led to New Zealand's most serious public disorder in decades -- placed it in breach of the New Zealand Rugby Union's constitutional commitment to 'the fostering and encouragement of the game of rugby'.
A closer look at the shirts gave the game away. They were that familiar shade of black, but the hallowed silver fern had only equal billing with a sponsors logo. Nominally organised by the Transvaal Rugby Union, it was instead a commercially-backed 'rebel' tour set in train almost as soon as the 1985 venture was cancelled.
The players were still nominally amateur, and many would later swear affidavits that their payment for the tour had been no more than the IRB decreed maximum of £15 per day. British journalist Stephen Jones reported that when he asked a recent All Black if this was the case "by the time he had stopped laughing, my own phone bill had increased by £5".
Scrum-halves Steve Loveridge, who went on the tour, and David Kirk, who did not, would refer in their memoirs to fees of around £30-35,000, roughly five years' pay for the average New Zealander. The recipients of this largesse were a litany of New Zealand rugby legend.
Fred Allen had turned the tour down, so Colin Meads was coach. Ian Kirkpatrick was manager. And the squad led by hooker Andy Dalton included players whose names resonate to this day including Loveridge, the Whetton brothers, Wayne Shelford, Murray Mexted, Andy Haden and Grant Fox and others like Wayne Smith and Robbie Deans who would add fame as coaches to their playing achievements.
Two members of the 1985 squad turned the offer down. These refuseniks would also make names for themselves -- Kirk and John Kirwan. Kirk painted a vivid picture of the departure of the sizeable Auckland contingent who "literally sprinted off the field, changed into jeans and tee-shirts in front of the rest of us, and, with scarcely a word, loaded themselves into a wartime minibus. They looked as if they were making an escape, as though they were doing something disreputable."
A furious New Zealand Rugby Union disowned the tour. So too, attending a meeting of the International Rugby Board in London, did the South African Rugby Board's veteran president Dr Danie Craven, only to announce on his return home that the SARB would recognise the tour and award Springbok caps for their four tests.
For years Craven had trodden a serpentine line between South Africa's political hardliners and global rugby officialdom, assisted by neither being the most percipient group on the planet. But this time he had gone too far and never really recovered his credibility with either the IRB or the New Zealanders, whose president Russ Thomas cut off their decades-long friendship.
The 12 matches, none against non-white opposition, were fiercely contested. The Junior Boks were only beaten 22-21 thanks to a last minute drop-goal from Fox. Manager Kirkpatrick said :"We'd told them before how tough South African rugby players were, but I think they were still taken by surprise".
Dalton, in an unhappy foretaste of his non-playing role as captain in the 1987 World Cup was ruled out after a shoulder injury in the second match, another single point victory over Northern Transvaal. Ten new Springboks were minted during the 'Test series', of whom hooker Uli Schmidt was to be the most notable.
The Boks won 3-1, with skipper Naas Botha contributing 67 points across the 'Tests', which were played on four consecutive weekends. They returned home, but as New Zealand's veteran chronicler Terry McLean would recall, were "not greeted with bands, trumpets, flags and bunting".
The New Zealand board listened straight-faced to their claims to have been paid no more than permitted expenses, and suspended the group for two internationals, a sentence whose lightness, McLean recorded ,"caused mocking laughter". The two matches were against the touring French and the first of a three-match series against Australia.
For the first New Zealand named a fresh squad, led by Kirk, which was immediately nicknamed the 'Baby Blacks'. Ten new caps included hooker Sean Fitzpatrick, powerful centre Joe Stanley, wing Terry Wright and flanker Mike Brewer -- all destined for significant All Black careers and there was also a new coach, Brian Lochore.
The entire All Blacks team had fewer caps than French fullback Serge Blanco. Yet they won 18-9 in a match of six drop goals, one from All Black fullback Greg Cooper and two from fly-half Frano Botica cancelling out three for France by Patrick Lescarboura.
Brewer's try and five more points from Cooper's boot made the difference, but perhaps more important than the result was the warmth with which a fresh new squad, untouched by the running battles over South Africa, was greeted by the New Zealand public.
When they lost the Bledisloe opener 13-12 to Australia, New Zealand's selectors rushed a shedload of Cavaliers, including the entire pack, back into the team. Their reward was a 13-12 victory in the next Test, followed by a defeat in the decider which was welcomed not only by the delighted Australians, for whom taking the Bledisloe was a breakthrough comparable to their 1984 'Grand Slam' tour of Europe.
The day after, reporting on a Sevens tournament otherwise memorable at this distance only for the Paris University squad taking the field with their shorts on their heads, I found myself seated next to veteran Guardian correspondent David Frost. He who explained that, no, his choice of an Australian Rugby Union tie that day was no coincidence at all, but an expression of delight that the New Zealand Union had not been rewarded for its lack of loyalty to players who had shown loyalty to it.
The Cavaliers represented a low point in the relationship between the game of rugby and much of the New Zealand population, already seriously damaged by the events of 1981.
But like most low points it was followed by a revival. The Baby Blacks represented a fresh, untarnished start and a timely influx of prime, youthful talent which combined with survivors from the Cavaliers to take New Zealand to its resounding victory in the following year's inaugural World Cup.
Apartheid and amateurism would take a little longer to resolve.