Soldiers "shoved" guns in All Black faces during historic tour

Publish Date
Sunday, 17 October 2021, 10:12AM
NZ Herald

NZ Herald

By: Neil Reid

A member of the All Blacks who went behind the Iron Curtain during the 1981 tour of Romania has revealed how an unintended security breach resulted in soldiers pointing loaded machine guns at him and a teammate.

Forty years ago the All Blacks made their one and only visit to Romania, a nation that was then under strict and forceful communist control.

The sight of anti-aircraft installations, tanks, soldiers and armoured personnel carriers provided a stark welcome to the All Blacks after their charter plane landed in Romania.

And tour rookie Arthur Stone has revealed how he and Andrew Donald later found themselves confronted by soldiers pointing guns at them.

Their crime was visiting a square in Bucharest during a time of the day when visitors were banned.

"The way the people behaved . . . they were afraid to do certain things. We weren't allowed to go into certain areas in the centre of Bucharest," Stone told the Herald on Sunday.

"There was a big huge square where you could walk in certain times of the day, otherwise you weren't allowed to go near it.

"A couple of us got caught, myself and Andrew Donald. We were the new boys on the block and we were walking across the square and the soldiers ran out and shoved their guns in your faces.

"We learned very quickly that you weren't allowed to go to some of these places."

As two of the youngest All Blacks on the tour, their first trip with the team, Stone said he and Donald were dubbed the Gee Whizz Kids by their teammates.

"Everywhere we went we would go 'gee whizz'," he said.

But Stone said his desire to seek out new adventures on tour was slightly dulled by the reaction of the Romanian soldiers.

"We were just young kids and used to the New Zealand way where you went to wherever you wanted," he said.

"So we were walking across the square near our hotel, innocently, and out come these guards saying, 'You are not meant to be here, go away'."

Donald said 40 years on from the tour, his memories of the incident weren't clear.

But he laughed: "It was probably more to do with Arthur . . . he looks a bit more shifty."

"With us being our first tour, we were the 'Gee Whizz Kids'. It was our first time away with a team like that.

"And I do remember when you were wondering around you were very conscious of behaving yourself."

As well as the ever-present sight of military might,

the All Blacks' movements were tracked by government authorities.

That includes an elderly woman who was the team's appointed interpreter and who the players believed was a spy. Mail back to New Zealand was censored and loose forward Jock Ross said on a team charter flight there were "six guys at the back of the plane, all wearing black hats, who were observing us,".

Donald – who was a farmer from the Whanganui region – said the trip to the then hardline socialist country had been a huge culture shock.

"It makes you so glad that you are living a country where you can express your opinion, and we do take things for granted," he said.

"When I reflect back on it . . . holy smoke, you do appreciate the freedoms out here. When you are told what to do, what to eat, and when . . . it's not good."

Stone and Donald weren't the only squad members to stare down the barrels of machine guns during the drama-filled visit.

Veteran wing Stu Wilson wrote in his joint autobiography with teammate Bernie Fraser – Ebony & Ivory – that he had a run-in with authorities after he was almost hit by a car while walking across a pedestrian crossing.

As the car passed him, Wilson recalled how he was "angry" and "turned my backside to the car and bent over".

"A uniform with a gun was there quicker than David Campese could goose-step past a mud-bound hippo," he wrote. "The sub machine-gun was pointed at me, not the car. The car was official. Disrespect, said the uniform.

"I tried to smile at the uniform and found my teeth kept getting caught in my lips. I said in broken English it was a joke. The uniform didn't laugh.

"It stared at me and I saw the headlines back home . . . Wilson Held . . . Wilson Taken at Gunpoint . . . Wilson Gunned Down while Fraser Claims Asylum. After a staring match he let me go, but very, very reluctantly."

>> Behind the Iron Curtain: All Blacks players look back on a crazy tour in the Herald on Sunday and nzherald.co.nz