Rugby East Coast charity match: All Black legend Waka Nathan's victory recalled
RECENTLY deceased All Black great Waka Nathan was one of those players who “put bums on seats”.
It was no different when he played a pre-season charity match at Gisborne’s Rugby Park on March 28, 1964.
He led his own Waka Nathan XV to a 36-19 victory over a Pat Walsh XV.
The GMC-organised charity match featured All Blacks, Maori All Blacks, other prominent players and some local talent, including a future All Black.
The match was held the same Easter weekend that Gisborne hosted the Maori Battalion reunion.
No doubt many of the 2000 people who attended the official opening of the reunion at Te Poho-o-Rawiri Marae that Saturday morning went on to Rugby Park.
The match attendance of 5000 spectators and the high score (for the era) led the Herald’s Onlooker (long-serving chief reporter Jack Jones) to write that legendary All Black fullback “Bob Scott was right when he expressed the opinion that there were none who could play rugby with such sheer pleasure as the Maori”.
“The game provided much of the devil-may-care spirit of true Maori rugby, interfaced with generous portions of some very good rugby,” Onlooker wrote.
The match, played in fine weather, saw Nathan’s side outscore Walsh’s team by eight tries to five in an era when tries were worth only three points.
The one disappointment was that loose forward Nathan, probably the biggest name on the field, had to be helped off it because of a significant injury.
The two captains had just returned from touring Britain and France with Wilson Whineray’s 1963-64 All Blacks, who won 30 and drew one of their 32 matches.
Walsh was a gifted All Black utility who played at centre, wing, in the five-eighths and, when Don Clarke was injured, at fullback.
He was Counties’ first All Black and made his All Black debut in 1955 against the Wallabies when he was 19.
He played 27 games, including 13 tests, for the All Blacks between 1955 and 1964.
A third 1963-1964 All Black tourist was mercurial first five-eighth Mac Herewini, who played for Nathan’s side.
Nathan and Herewini were best mates who always sat next to each other in the All Blacks’ dressing room.
Herewini was a graceful footballer and well-known for having a dapper dress sense away from rugby grounds.
Tributes after his 2014 death described him as a “rugby marvel” and the “most thrilling of Maori players”.
Nathan and Herewini were both selected to play for Auckland while still at Otahuhu College.
The two future All Blacks helped their school to win the Auckland A1 school championship.
Takapuna Grammar in 1941 is the only other state-funded co-educational school to win that title.
The pair played in four Otahuhu sides to win the (Auckland club championship) Gallaher Shield.
The club has won the Gallaher Shield only three times in the 50 years since.
Perhaps their most famous football feat achieved together was Auckland’s last-minute Ranfurly Shield escape against challengers Canterbury in 1960.
Auckland won a tighthead against All Black hooker Dennis Young.
Herewini kicked ahead for Nathan to score and the conversion gave Auckland a 19 -18 victory over their greatest rivals.
The first five-eighth played 32 matches, 10 of them tests, for the All Blacks between 1962 and 1967.
During the charity match he “cut a few capers”, wrote Onlooker.
A fourth member of Whineray’s great All Black side played in the curtain raiser.
Hawke’s Bay centre Bill Davis appeared for his club side Taradale against Ngatapa.
Davis played 53 games, including 11 tests, for the All Blacks between 1963 and 1970.
Team selectors thought highly enough of East Coast 18-year-old Buff Milner to pick him for the match featuring Maoridom’s best players of 1964.
In August of the same year, the East Coast faithful nearly blew the roof off the new grandstand at Whakarua Park when Milner scored a try against the Wallabies in the tourists’ only appearance on the Coast.
Australia won the match 28-3.
Milner toured Australia with the New Zealand Under-23 team in 1964.
He became an “honorary white” when selected to tour South Africa in 1970 with the first All Black side to the republic who weren’t “all white”.
Then playing provincial rugby for Counties, Milner played 16 tour matches, including the third test.
Other All Blacks who appeared in the Nathan-Walsh match were:
• Auckland centre Ron Rangi, who played 10 tests, scoring three tries. He was known for having issues with New Zealand Rugby Football Union officials and was once suspended from rugby for unspecified reasons. Rangi was awarded the Tom French Cup, still a prestigious award today, for Best Maori Player in 1964 and 1965. Walsh, Nathan and Herewini also won the Tom French Cup twice.
• Bay of Plenty’s Fijian-born 1967 All Black lock Arthur Jennings. Onlooker said Jennings was “the best forward on the field”.
Maori All Blacks who played in the match included Poverty Bay’s own Sonny Rutene. He played 10 games for New Zealand Maori, including a match against the 1959 British Lions. Rutene also played for Poverty Bay-East Coast against the Lions in 1959 and 1966, and was the third Bay player to play 100 first-class matches.
Other Maori All Blacks to play in the game included:
— Alby Prior, a star player of his era despite being controversially overlooked by the All Black selectors. He played 85 games for Auckland from 1956 to 1964.
— Auckland and Bay of Plenty representative Jim Maniapoto who, according to Onlooker, “showed a lot of pace and one crushing run”, and his brother Huri. A third brother, Manu, also played for the Maori All Blacks.
— Waikato prop John Porima.
Another local talent who appeared was fullback Haupai Henare, who played the previous season for the Fred Allen-coached Auckland side who lost the Ranfurly Shield in 1963 after 26 defences.
Onlooker wrote that Henare “looked more venturesome on attack than he had looked in previous Gisborne appearances”.
The GMC player was selected later in 1964 for the New Zealand Under-23 tour of Australia. He kicked 43 points in five games to be the top scorer of the tour.
Henare was an All Black trialist in 1965 and also played for East Coast and King Country.
Two other players from the match, subsequently better known outside of rugby, were noted woodchopper Rugby Edwards and future New Zealand First leader and deputy prime minister Winston Peters.
Edwards, who played prop for the Pat Walsh XV, broke the world record for the standing 12-inch chop in Gisborne only two months before the match.
Peters, playing at centre for the Waka Nathan XV, scored two tries and “showed pace and enterprise”.
Two prominent Poverty Bay players who did not appear in the charity match were second five-eighth Johnny Collins and winger Pat Ransley.
The two toured Fiji later in 1964 with the Maori All Blacks. Both had good excuses for missing the big Gisborne match.
They were in Wellington helping their club side Marist defend the (North Island Marist) Spillane Cup.
Ransley scored two tries and Collins one (playing at centre) in their 23-6 semifinal victory over Rotorua Marist, but Gisborne Marist lost the final against Wellington Marist 32-6.
Collins went on to play one test against Australia in 1964 and two against the 1965 Springboks.
Ransley is still Poverty Bay’s record try-scorer with 25 tries.