The British and Irish Lions tour is bringing back fond memories for one of oldest surviving players who battled the Lions when they made their first post-war tour of New Zealand and Australia.
Retired Hope farmer Ted Eden, 91, played for the Nelson Marlborough Golden Bay Motueka Combined team against the 1950 Lions at Trafalgar Park on May 10, 1950.
It was the Lions first game of their 29-match tour of New Zealand and Australia, and the diminutive Waimea half back says it was a big occasion for the players and the town.
“The Lions were here for a whole week before the game so there was plenty of excitement around the town,” Ted says. “We had dinner with the Lions in the Nelson Hotel and there were all these English journalists following us around trying to find out about our team and what we were like.
“There was a big crowd at the game too. It was a big occasion but it didn’t worry me too much because I was just trying to concentrate on the game.”
Although Ted says the Combined side contained a number of “very good Nelson players”, including Maori All Black Bill Taylor, Nick Gargiulo and Ian Leggatt, the Lions were too good, scoring two tries and six penalties to win 24-3.
“They had big forwards and we didn’t get much ball. I was lucky I could tackle alright because I had to do a fair bit of it.
“But I thought we gave them a good go. You only got three points for a try back then but the score was still close enough.”
Ted also says they faced an uphill battle after being reduced to just 14 men for most of the match. But unlike the All Blacks who were down to 14 men after a player was sent off in last Saturday’s test, the Combined side lost their player to injury.
“We lost our flanker (K Lammas) with a broken leg. You couldn’t replace players back in those days so, if someone went off injured, that was it.”
Ted’s other enduring memory from the game was sprinting after speedy Lions winger Malcolm Thomas as he raced away for a try. Ted enjoyed a laugh when he learned afterwards that legendary radio commentator Winston McCarthy broadcast that “the only one chasing is Ted Eden with his little legs going like pistons”.
Sixty-seven years later, Ted says he thoroughly enjoyed watching the Lions latest tour. “The Lions are a good side to watch and it certainly brings back memories. It’s also a bit sad though because there are not too many of that Combined side left – it was such a long time ago.”