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Pitch invasion protesters revisit Hamilton field 40 years on from Springbok tour

Anti-apartheid protestors from 1981 have returned to Hamilton to mark 40 years to the day since their infamous storming of Rugby Park.

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From his jail cell, Nelson Mandela recalled of the cancelled game, “it was as if the sun had come out.” Source: 1 NEWS

Their actions, as well as the threat of a stolen plane crashing into the stadium, caused the game against the Springboks to be cancelled, sending shockwaves across the world.

The drama unfolded live on television and was broadcast around the world, including in South Africa.

On Sunday, about 50 protestors from that day gathered in Hamilton's Garden Place to reflect and retrace their steps.

The now mayor of Invercargill, Tim Shadbolt, was among them. He said it was a day of mixed emotions.

"An aspect of exhilaration because we won this battle, quite decisively, and change has happened, said Mr Shadbolt. But he said the violence from that day also made it a "tough memory."

"For me it was when we left the ground, the ambulance came in and was attacked by pro-rugby people... an ambulance is always considered neutral territory... but it wasn't neutral on that day," remembers Mr Shadbolt.

David Williams was one of the protestors who had bought a ticket in order to get onto the field.

"Then I found other people came rushing through the fence and knocked me over and I joined them on the field," said Mr Williams. But his strongest memory is of the violence and warning protestors who had been released from jail.

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"I said, get that smile off your face, get your badges off and get into the car and get out of town as quick as you can because there're people running around the streets and driving around the streets looking for protestors to bash up," said Mr Williams.

Former Waikato rugby player Kiwi Searancke was in the team that never got to the play the Springboks. He said the cancellation was disappointing but it was short-lived.

"I'd like to have played that game. I was probably pissed off but I got over it, within seconds of feel like that you think oh that's what it is, we'll move on," said Mr Searancke.

An exhibition at Waikato Museum recalls the tension. Ripeka Evans and Josie Keelan who were in the Patu squad of protestors remember the "huge energy" on the day.

The cancelled game served as inspiration in South Africa. Nelson Mandela was locked up at the time and said when he heard the game had been cancelled, "it was as if the sun had come up."

"The 25th of July is now not just memorialised, it's actually celebrated as a day that Hamilton became famous for doing something," said Ripeka Evans.