Sunday, 24 August 2014

Whineray's 1963-64 All Blacks

Memory is a powerful drug, and during the week mine focused on a team I worshipped as a schoolboy, the 1963-64 All Blacks who toured Britain, Ireland, France, and Canada. A terrific New Zealand photographer, Morrie Hill, published a glossy booklet after the tour, and in one shot pictured half a dozen of the players gathered around the plaque at Rugby School which commemorates William Webb Ellis who, "with a fine disregard for the rules of football as played in his time", ran with the ball in his arms in 1823, which, if the legend is true, started the sport of rugby.
One of the All Blacks in that shot was Kevin Barry, a hero of mine when I was a kid. By melancholy coincidence, I learned of his passing on the same day I stood before the Webb Ellis plaque for the first time.
Heroes are tricky beasts. They can let you down with a thump that sickens you for days afterwards.
But Kevin never did. All Blacks were never thick on the ground in Thames Valley, but he was our man. He started playing senior rugby as a teenager in the Valley when his father, Ned, also an All Black, was a cop stationed at Whitianga.

In 1962 Kevin Barry (right) led a Valley team reduced to 14 men when wing Jim Mita broke his arm early in the game to a sensational two-point win over the Wallabies in Te Aroha.
He never played a test for the All Blacks, but started 23 games on tour, and he was good enough to once steal two lineout throws from Colin Meads when the Valley played King Country in Paeroa.
Strangely, after going for his third ball on a King Country throw, he was injured, and needed extensive bandaging to get back on the field. I think in those more primal times they called it a badge of honour.
After he'd retired from rugby, and was working in Auckland, I got to know him, and discovered what a modest, likeable, all round good bugger he was.
And here's the thing. Having been lucky enough to make a living in the media since 1965, I discovered something about that 1963-64 side: If there was ever a team that had a "no dickhead" policy this was it.
You could start with the coach, Neil McPhail. A former soldier, he was so modest he told reporters seeking quotes after a game, "Don't ask me, I wasn't out there. You need to talk to the players."
I doubt there's ever been a more astute man in our rugby than captain Wilson Whineray, later Sir Wilson. He was charming, too.

A few years before he died in 2012, I bumped into him at the Hard To Find Bookshop in Onehunga. In his hand was a copy of Terry McLean's book on the 63-64 tour, Willie Away, named after Whineray. There was a pregnant pause before he said, "This is not what it looks like."
Whenever he saw the book he bought a copy, he explained, and then, when grandchildren were old enough to wonder what Granddad had done in his youth, he could simply hand it over.
Whineray's All Blacks of 63 were a hell of a team.
They played 36 games, won 34, lost to Newport in their third match, and only lost out on a Grand Slam tour because Scotland held them to a scoreless draw.
But what the players offered to the sport, and to their country, in future years is even more extraordinary.

 Colin Meads, one of our greatest All Blacks ever, was a key player in Whineray's 1963-64 team

 Four, Whineray, Brian Lochore, John Graham and Colin Meads, would be knighted.
Lochore coached the first All Blacks side to win the World Cup in 1987. Graham, for years the headmaster of Auckland Grammar, remains a passionate advocate for excellence in education. A young Polynesian friend met him this year and said, "He wasn't what I expected. I thought he'd be stern and cold, but he's got a terrific sense of humour."
And what would any story about this team be without a mention of possibly the sweetest natured man to ever pull on a rugby jersey, Waka Nathan? (pictured below)
In the 1970s, when Maori rugby had almost crashed and burned in the wake of some awful results, he took over as coach, and got the team back on its feet.
But don't think the sweet smile signalled a man you could push around. Terry McLean records that at the end of the tour he said to Nathan, "I've reached a point, Waka, where I think I might have to take that guitar you play all the time and stamp it into little pieces."
Replied Nathan, "Sure. And I might have to do the same to your typewriter."
Thanks to the Sunday Star Times for permission to run this article written by Phil Gifford

My memories of the All Black team from 1959 to 1965 centred around R.J. (Red) or Dick Conway.
Conway was small for a loose forward, standing at 1.75m and weighing only 85 kg, and he was known for his dynamic tackling.

 Some people would give their right arm to play for the All Blacks, but instead Dick Conway gave his finger to play for them. I was 11 years of age when Red (R.J.) or Dick Conway played for the All Blacks. We played in the same club and occasionally he would come and watch our Zingari-Richmond under 7 stone team play at Monticello ground in Dunedin. Dick had the choice of not being medically fit to play for the All Blacks or getting rid of a finger. Conway got his finger amputated and went on to play for the All Blacks again. Here are the facts from NZ Rugby archives.
"A persistent finger injury incurred from playing as a softball catcher put Conway's 1960 tour of South Africa in doubt. The damage occurred to his third finger on his right hand after it was broken while trying to catch a foul ball. After the break mended the finger retained a kink and he was told by a specialist that if he kept playing rugby the finger would keep breaking. To keep his spot on the tour Conway decided to amputate the finger after the final selection trial."

Conway, above,  debuted for the All Blacks in 1959, playing the second test against the touring lions. The first test had resulted in a New Zealand win, but was described as "New Zealand's saddest victory" by the press due to the Lions outscoring the home team four tries to none.

He was not selected for the All Blacks for five years following the tour until 1965, when he was recalled for four tests against South Africa. He played an important role in securing a 3-1 series victory. That was his last game for the All Blacks, although he did play in a "The Rest" team against them the next year.

Now getting back to Sir Wilson Whineray's accessible approach,  made him a captain who could "waft between the farmers and the smart-arse students", former team-mates say.
Tributes have flowed for the former All Blacks captain, who died in Auckland Hospital yesterday, aged 77. He was surrounded by family and had been in hospital for the past month.
Judged by renowned rugby writer Terry McLean as the greatest of All Black captains, Sir Wilson was a mobile prop with the handling skills of a back who played in a much-feared pack alongside Colin Meads, Kel Tremain and Ken Gray.
He was the country's longest-serving All Blacks captain, and played 77 games for the team as a prop, including 32 tests, after debuting against Australia in May 1957 - a remarkable feat in the days when only two or three tests were played each year.
New Zealand lost just four of the 30 tests played when he was captain.
But his dominance was not restricted to the rugby field.

After gaining an MBA from Harvard University, he went on to spend 34 years with forest products conglomerate Carter Holt
Harvey, including as deputy managing director, and 10 years as chairman. He was also chairman of the National Bank.
He was knighted in 1998 for services to sport and business.
Sir Wilson is survived by his wife, Lady Elisabeth, a son, two daughters and five grandchildren.
In a statement, his family thanked the staff at Auckland Hospital's critical care unit and said he would leave a large gap in their lives. "Our father led a rich life filled to the brim with family, sport, business and the community we are blessed with many wonderful memories of him.
"We will always remember his energy and passion for everything he did and we remember one of his favourite comments was that he didn't regret a single day in his life."
Stalwarts of the rugby and business worlds paid tribute to Sir Wilson yesterday. "We have lost one of New Zealand's great heroes and for the rugby community we have lost a much-loved patron and champion of rugby," New Zealand Rugby Union chairman Mike Eagle said.

Extraordinary Grace
Sir Wilson Whineray was not always an easy captain, but he was a fair one, says ex-All Black Chris Laidlaw, who played under him for more than two years.
"It wasn't easy playing under him. I had to learn the hard way. But to his enormous credit, Wilson was an accessible person.

"He was very smart and able to waft between the farmers, those who formed that hardcore of the team and the smart-arse students who formed half the backline.
"He had an extraordinary amount of grace. Whenever I think of Wilson I think of that word."
Rugby great Sir Brian Lochore said he would remember his friend and former team-mate as a leader and man of great mana.
"He was a very successful captain and natural leader. He did really well, then did outstandingly well in business after retiring from the All Blacks.

"He had a lot of mana and was a very wise person."
Sir Brian recalled fond memories of his 1963 tour with Whineray.
"My great memory would be when he scored a try against the Barbarians at Cardiff Arms Park and put in a great dummy. They got sucked in and he went under the sticks. That was something special."
The pair got to know each other during the five-month tour, but even after their respective retirements from rugby they remained in touch, with Lochore following Whineray's lead to chair the Hillary Commission.
Whineray was 21 when he made his debut for the All Blacks and as captain from the age of 23 he led the country to 41 wins from 50 games.
Through his career, he played for Wairarapa, Mid Canterbury, Manawatu, Canterbury, Waikato and Auckland.

He was named New Zealand Sportsman of the Year in 1965 and in 2003 he was named patron of the New Zealand Rugby Union. Four years later he became the fourth person to be inducted into the International Rugby Board Hall of Fame.
Whineray won a Harkness Scholarship to Harvard University where he studied for an MBA in 1967 and 1968.
He went on to work in the business world for the likes of Carter Holt Harvey, National Bank of New Zealand and Auckland International Airport.

In the early 1990s he was appointed the Colonel-Commandant of the New Zealand SAS Regiment - a position he held for five years.

Barry Dineen, a former fellow National Bank director who also played rugby with Sir Wilson, described him as a man of many great strengths.
"He was the Richie McCaw of his day. He was a very good front-row prop - an excellent rugby player ... a good man's man and a good leader with a great ability to communicate with his colleagues. If he set out to do something, then he did it ... in business."

But let's reflect more on Wilson Whineray, one of New Zealand's great leaders.

 Man For All Seasons
His friend of about 60 years Mick Bremner, 82, was All Black vice-captain under Whineray but they were already friends from their time at Massey College in Palmerston North.
"Socially, he was always calm and great company. He worked hard at anything he put his mind to, and was always unruffled."
A "man for all seasons", Whineray took his leadership on the rugby field seriously.
"He had a good mind on how rugby should be played. He was a very good captain and well liked by all the players.
"He was a good example for all of us really."
Bremner and Whineray went on to together coach an Onslow senior rugby team to victory in about 1979.
Through all his successes, Whineray always had his feet firmly on the ground - even when he was knighted, Bremner said.
His death was so unexpected, and he would miss him, Bremner said.
"You get a bit of a shock because you think those chaps will go on forever."
Bob Howitt wrote Whineray's biography, A Perfect Gentleman, and said getting the "humble, genuine" rugby legend to share his life story was characteristically difficult.
"Sir Wilson being Wilson, he wasn't going to do a book.
"I played my last card, I said that given what you achieved in rugby and business there deserves to be a book written about you and I am going to write it with or without you. In those circumstances he said 'we better get on with the bloody thing'."
But it was another book rugby writer Phil Gifford will remember Whineray for.
Gifford first met him off the rugby field when the All Black was working at the NZ Wool Marketing Corporation, and said a chance meeting a few years ago summed up the nature of the man.
"I was in a secondhand book shop in Auckland, in the sports section and I turned the corner and what do you know, there's Sir Wilson."
In his hand was a copy of Terry McLean's book, Willie Away, named in Whineray's honour.
"He said, 'it's not what it looks like' he would hunt down a copy of the book for his grandkids, and he would say to them 'if you want to know what your granddad did as a young man, this kind of tells it'."

Leadership Demonstrated In Loyalty
The young Sir Wilson was a leader who was loyal to his mates - even the ex-bodgies.
A man who led the rugby great through his Compulsory Military Training (CMT) in 1953 remembers the 18-year-old sticking his neck out for his fellow balloted comrades.
It all began when a handful of bodgies - 1950s louts turned freshly shaven soldiers - got into a fight in Palmerston North during their first Friday night leave.
Their Linton Army Camp platoon commander, Ian Launder, now 83, recalls the group returning with black eyes and signs of being "knocked around a bit".
"Obviously they weren't particularly appreciated by their past associates. It was obvious they had been beaten up."
Two weeks later during their next leave night, Mr Launder got a call from police to say there had been another "fracas" between soldiers.
This time it was a dozen of them who had confronted the "bodgies and widgies (female bodgies)" down a dark street to "square the books".
Lining them up next morning, Mr Launder was unable to get a word of explanation out of the men, even though "it was reasonably evident from their knuckles they had been involved".
Then one man stepped up, took the blame and said, "Yes, I arranged it". It was Sir Wilson.
"It just showed he had bloody good leadership potential, even back then."
He was a loyal and supportive mate.
"Whether to rugby players or even ex-bodgies who had been beaten up."


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