Mem­o­ries of an All Black

From rugby pitches to bowl­ing greens, it’s a sport­ing life Kris Dando talks to 1960s All Black Bruce Watt about be­ing a first­five, Colin Meads and run­ning 26 miles in the aisle of a bus.

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Was rugby al­ways your game?

I had one year where I played foot­ball in the morn­ing, rugby in the af­ter­noon while at school [Wan­ganui Tech­ni­cal], but I loved rugby too much. I played a bit of cricket, was an open­ing bat for Ran­gi­tikei in one Hawke Cup match. We played Waikato and I wanted to face Don Clarke, who was open­ing the bowl­ing, but I made a duck in each in­nings at the other end.

You grew up on a dairy farm in Hun­ter­ville – why did you go into bank­ing and not farm­ing?

I didn’t want to be a farmer – asleep at 8.30 most nights be­cause of the 5.30am starts to milk the cows. As soon as I was old enough I got a job in the BNZ in Hun­ter­ville.

How was your first taste of provin­cial rugby?

I made Wan­ganui as an 18-year-old. We had a Shield chal­lenge against Welling­ton 1957, but got well-beaten, 34-5. I was play­ing against 30-year-olds and thought I was a bit out of place. It was great to play against Aus­tralia in 1958, too. They only beat us by two points. This was when you ac­tu­ally had tours and teams like Wan­ganui and South Can­ter­bury were very com­pet­i­tive against the big boys.

Why did you move Can­ter­bury?

I had a trans­fer through the BNZ. I didn’t want to, but my sis­ter was at a school for the deaf in Sum­ner and it was good to be close to her. I didn’t think I’d have a show of get­ting into the Can­ter­bury team, but man­aged to force my way in.

Play­ing for New Zealand Ju­niors against the Bri­tish Lions at Ath­letic Park in 1959 must have been a high­light?

I was only 20, but it gave me an in­kling I might be in the frame for the se­nior team se­lec­tors. Against the Lions, one of our play­ers broke his leg and we had to play 70 min­utes with 14 men. I prob­a­bly played 20 games at Ath­letic Park, with All Black tri­als and other games.

You made the All Blacks in 1962.

It was un­be­liev­able. You play your best, but you never ex­pect it. The se­lec­tors read out the team un­der the stand at Ath­letic Park and my dad, who had played for Wan­ganui, was so happy he

to grabbed me by the hair and dropped me on my back.

It was an era of for­mi­da­ble first-fives – Neil Wolfe, Mac Herewini, Peter Mur­doch, Tony Davies and, later, Earle Kir­ton.

Yes. Luck­ily we had a 36-game tour of Bri­tain in 1963-64, so the se­lec­tors took three first-fives.

Is the role of the No 10 dif­fer­ent to­day?

Not re­ally. You’re the gen­eral. You call the moves and con­trol the backs. We had a bit more free­dom, but the role is still fun­da­men­tally the same. In my day, you could kick it out on the full from any­where, so the way you look at the game has def­i­nitely changed.

On your test de­but against Aus­tralia in 1962, you scored two tries. Nice start.

I didn’t score a lot of tries. It wasn’t my job. It shows that a good first-five should al­ways be back­ing up, which my coach, Jack Grif­fith from Wan­ganui, used to tell me. I got the last pass on a cou­ple of good moves.

What were the high­lights of the big 1963/64 tour to Bri­tain?

The test against Wales, where I dropped a goal. It was the All Blacks’ first win on Cardiff Arms Park, so it meant a lot to us. Against Scot­land [0-0 draw] we played in mud up to our an­kles. It’s not like the pris­tine sur­faces now.

What was it like to play with Don Clarke, Wil­son Whin­eray and Colin Meads?

I did feel like a mere mor­tal in their pres­ence, but they were good bug­gers, just one of the team. They all played 80 min­utes and sel­dom had a bad game. Against the Bar­bar­ians at the end of the tour [ 36- 3 win at Cardiff] Whin­eray, a prop, sidestepped the full­back and scored. He could do any­thing. My brother, Rus­sell, played club rugby against Colin and Rus­sell got caught at the bot- tom of a ruck. Next thing, he has this shadow loom­ing over him and a voice says, ‘‘Young Watt, give me that ball’’. So Rus­sell gave him the ball!

That was some tour of Bri­tain.

It was hard be­ing away so long. Val and I post­poned our wed­ding for five months and I spent Christ­mas over­seas. I played six games in three weeks at one point and ev­ery game was like a test.

The best play­ers you played with?

Prob­a­bly [ full­back] Fergie McCormick. He was a good mate as well. He gave his guts ev­ery game, a very hard man and su­perb foot­baller.

Earle Kir­ton be­came the favoured first-five later.

Right up to the 1967 All Black tri­als I thought I had a good shot. I re­ally wanted to go on the Bri­tain tour in 1967, but they took Kir­ton and Herewini. I re­tired from rugby in 1969. The idea of rugby coach­ing, and work and fam­ily were more im­por­tant.

You stayed in the game coach­ing.

Rugby was al­ways a huge part of my life. Work with the BNZ took us to Can­ter­bury, Nel­son, Bal­clutha and Welling­ton, so I fit­ted in coach­ing around that.

How long were you with the BNZ?

I re­tired at 50, af­ter 34 years with them. Then I was man­ager of the RSA in Nae­nae for three years and postie here in Tawa for eight. It was a great way to stay fit.

And bowls be­came your sport?

In Tawa I joined the Tawa Ser­vices Bowl­ing Club. They’ve all be­come my good mates and I was chuffed to be made a life mem­ber. I reckon I’ve been on the roller [rolling the greens] from Welling­ton to Auck­land and back, twice. Do you watch much rugby? I never miss a test match. I’m a Can­ter­bury fan first, Welling­ton and the Hur­ri­canes sec­ond. I don’t get out to watch much live though. It’s a bit hard for me these days [with Parkin­son’s dis­ease].

Fi­nally, what about the leg­end of you run­ning marathons on the bus?

I was a keen run­ner. Ev­ery Queen’s Birth­day, Can­ter­bury would play Buller on the Satur­day and West Coast on the Mon­day. Af­ter a few beers on the bus, I’d strip to my grundies, jog in the aisle and say to the driver, ‘‘Keep an eye on your speedo and let me know when you hit 26 miles’’. There aren’t just lar­rikins around to­day, you know!

Photo: KRIS DANDO

Quiet life: 1960s All Black Bruce Watt has lived in Tawa since 1982.

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