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4 AUCKLAND CITY HARBOUR NEWS, OCTOBER 12, 2011
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Cup casualties and old dreams
All those black, end-of-the-world
style headlines about Dan Carter s
groin, the McCaw foot plus
Sunday s kicking victory blew dust
off old memories.
One was a moment millions of
red-blooded New Zealanders have
dreamed about over the years. But
it wasn t a dream.
There I was on an empty practice
ground in fading light two days
before an historic All Blacks test.
One key player under the show-
ers was injured and worried coach
Jack Sullivan had sought me out.
I ve got something to ask you,
the former great player said quietly.
The epic New Zealand dream, it
would have involved me in a late
call-up to greatness.
And even more unlikely, to play
in the All Blacks front row! No place
for a onetime first XV wing.
Instead Jack said: Please don t
publish anything about it. I don t
want them to know about him.
Jack s words were cryptic but we
both knew the context: The All
Blacks had just finished their last
training before the historic fourth
test clash with South Africa at Eden
Park on September 1, 1956.
It was an as-yet undefined
injury causing an All Black to limp
from the practice a few minutes
Him was that man, Kevin Skin-
ner, a cornerstone of the New Zea-
Them were the touring Spring-
Legendary prop Skinner -- once a
national amateur boxing champion
-- had been recalled from retirement
to rebuild an All Blacks front row
destroyed by Bok strong men in the
first two tests.
Why me? Well I was simply the
only media man at the practice.
Those were the days when rugby
was still only a sport and not a
multi-million-dollar national cor-
I remember swallowing hard,
weighing up what seemed a
national crisis, and agreed not to
report what I had seen so exclus-
ively . . . Jack Sullivan had added a
PS: If it s serious you ll be the first
I carried my guilty secret all next
day, Friday. He didn t call. The
injury was only minor. No big
Skinner played that Saturday.
And how he played. New Zealand
won and I breathed again.
Going back to my well-handled
copy of Men in Black 55 years later,
I found no reference in its careful,
politically correct text to Skinner s
impact in either the third test or
that fourth match.
Men he replaced had been mon-
stered in the first two matches --
Mark Irwin only lasted the first half
with damaged ribs from the impact
of an early Bok scrum.
Under the strict no-replacement
rule of those days South Africa had
problems too, finishing the match
with a six-man scrum against NZ s
seven -- and losing 10-6.
Later Frank McAtamney drew
the short straw as Irwin s replace-
ment for the next match. His fate:
The original dose was repeated on
him. I can still see his number arch
up in a scrum as he was injured,
lifted and seemingly twisted across
the backs of the All Black locks.
The New Zealand scrum never
recovered in a 17-10 loss.
No agenda was ever released
from a later emergency meeting of
the New Zealand Rugby Union.
Kevin Skinner s call-up which fol-
lowed was to deal with Jaap Becker,
a dominant figure in the front row
war. The Becker family was a Bok
legend. His two brothers earlier
played for South Africa, his sister
was an international athlete.
Jaap knew all about boxers --
another brother was an Olympic
fighter -- but a fired-up Skinner,
who carried memories of Becker tac-
tics from the 1949 All Blacks tour of
South Africa, was more than he
A couple of scrums were all Skin-
ner needed to subdue Becker. Ian
Clarke -- Don s front-rower brother
-- later told me how Skinner had
earlier asked him furtively to switch
sides of a scrum or two so Skinner
could deal with and to Chris Koch
as well. Apparently Skinner also
had some baggage with Koch too
from that 1949 tour. And he carried
a long grudge.
The Bok scrum supremacy was
broken. The usually hidden myster-
ies of front row play became
national history and Kevin Skinner
was hailed as a hero.
As was Northland fisherman
Peter Jones for a memorable try he
scored. And for his famous broad-
cast post-match verdict: I hope I
never play in a tougher game -- I m
There was another on-field drama
while Ron Jarden, high-scoring All
Blacks wing and goal kicker, nursed
a badly injured shoulder and a use-
less arm across his chest through
crucial last stages of the team s 11-6
win. No replacements allowed.
Then three minutes before the
end, New Zealand s great Tiny
White was helped up from the
ground and off the field after fierce
rucking. That was when the Boks --
faced with only 13 and a half
opponents -- scored their only try.
So you see, rugby history is
punctuated with injuries and their
outcomes but rarely with the huge
headlines, emotional newscasts and
near-national mourning like those
over Dan s groin and Ritchie s foot.
Some live on as legends -- Colin
Meads playing with an arm in plas-
ter, All Blacks captain and first-five
Ron Elvidge, blood streaming down
his face, helped from the field
against the Lions in 1950 after vice-
captain Johnny Simpson had left
earlier with an injury.
When forward Peter Johnstone
switched to the wing, a six-man All
Blacks pack battled the Lions eight
through the second spell. Elvidge,
patched up, returned to play a rov-
ing game in the backs before
crashing through a tackle for the
Another world cup saga involved
Mike Brewer, once seen as a poten-
tial All Blacks captain, playing 32
tests, missing through injury from
the 1987 and 1991 world cups
before playing against South Africa
in 1995 -- in a losing final.
Remember too David Kirk in the
cliche photo of the Auckland world
cup held high in 1987?
The figure alongside him was
Andy Dalton, the intended NZ cap-
tain who missed out on the tourna-
ment and that moment through
Well, that s the club Dan Carter
joined -- much against his ambitions
-- when the nation so narrowly
decided against flags at half-mast.
John Tanner of Remuera, All
Black inside back 1950- 54 and vice-
Who wants to watch a rugby
game when all you get is bash, bash,
bash of forwards trying to force past
a wall of opposition players?
It s time we understood that
backs can t play as a forward and so
when you put three forwards out
among the backline instead of in the
lineout you get a player with no idea
of how to make exciting back play --
and a boring spectacle.
It s time to change the rules
again if we want to compete with
And John Tanner wrote that
criticism before Argentina s classic
demonstration of smothering pods
of forwards all over the field on
He suggests all forwards should
have to stay in the lineouts which
would be restricted in length from
the sideline, and that all forwards
have to be attached to the set
scrums -- not until the ball comes
out but until it reaches the first
receiver or the halfback runs.
Add to that, the defending
players having to be at least 10
metres behind the base of the scrum
or lineout, then we could see some
exciting running rugby.
It s time to ask the players how
much they are enjoying their
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