NZ Rugby World - - Contents -

NOS. 50-41

50 Stephen Don­ald [2008-2011]


Stephen Don­ald is the per­fect ex­am­ple of why no one should ever think doors stay per­ma­nently closed in a pro­fes­sional ca­reer.

They don’t – as he proved when he went from be­ing the most vil­i­fied player in New Zealand to na­tional hero.

Don­ald is liv­ing proof that the most un­likely play­ers can end up hav­ing the most in­cred­i­ble in­flu­ence. No one can say the All Blacks wouldn’t have won the 2011 World Cup with­out Don­ald, but he cer­tainly had a mas­sive in­flu­ence in en­sur­ing they did.

Drafted into the squad as the fourth­choice­choice first-five for the semi­fi­nal, he ended up hav­ing to play 55 min­utes of the fi­nal. He wasn’t in great shape phys­i­cally, hadn’t played for five weeks and he sud­denly found him­self as the All Blacks’ chief play­maker in the big­gest game of all.

But he played his heart out and kicked the win­ning penalty – writ­ing one of the more in­cred­i­ble chap­ters in not just All Blacks his­tory but sport­ing his­tory.

Not only has he had a huge in­flu­ence in shap­ing New Zealand rugby his­tory – there was even a film made about him – but his con­tri­bu­tion in that one game has made him an in­spi­ra­tion to hun­dreds of thou­sands.

49 Reuben Thorne

[1999-2007] CAPS 50

The New Zealand pub­lic didn’t al­ways have a great han­dle on the value or in­flu­ence of Reuben Thorne.

He su ered some cruel com­ments and analysis of his per­for­mances when he was All Blacks cap­tain in 2002 and 2003. His de­trac­tors said he lacked dy­namism and im­pact, that he was a plod­der, safe but un­spec­tac­u­lar.

There was maybe a bit of truth in that but it was those qual­i­ties of be­ing se­cure, mea­sured, ac­cu­rate, graft­ing and re­lent­less that marked Thorne as spe­cial and in­flu­enced those around him.

There’s no doubt that Thorne was a gen­uinely in­spir­ing men­tor to Richie McCaw. The lat­ter learned plenty from the former – came to adopt many of the same stoic, unas­sum­ing qual­i­ties.

That art of stay­ing calm un­der the most in­tense pres­sure that McCaw be­came fa­mous for – he first saw the value of that from the way Thorne con­ducted him­self as cap­tain of both the Cru­saders and All Blacks.

“We’ve al­ways called him ‘Mis­ter Freeze’,” former Cru­saders and All Blacks hooker Mark Ham­mett says of Thorne. “He’s a great man to have in a pres­sure sit­u­a­tion be­cause noth­ing ever wor­ries him. He doesn’t get emo­tional and al­ways thinks with a clear head.”

And it wasn’t just McCaw who came un­der the in­flu­ence of Thorne. A gen­er­a­tion of great Cru­saders play­ers all worked un­der him as cap­tain and all learned the value of hard work, hu­mil­ity, hon­esty and per­se­ver­ance.

They ben­e­fited from the calm, re­laxed but de­ter­mined cul­ture Thorne had a ma­jor in­flu­ence in creat­ing at the Cru­saders.

48 Lau­rie Mains [1971-1976]


With all due re­spect to Lau­rie Mains, he makes this list for his in­flu­ence as a coach rather than what he achieved as a full­back in the 1970s.

Mains made his mark in All Blacks folk­lore when he took over as head coach in 1992. He had cut his coach­ing teeth with Otago and as­sumed the na­tional role af­ter the All Blacks had bombed at the 1991 World Cup un­der the joint but strained re­la­tion­ship be­tween John Hart and Alex Wyl­lie.

Mains had to re­build the side af­ter a num­ber of veterans re­tired and he had to lift the skill and fit­ness lev­els of the team, which were both ex­posed as lack­ing at the 1991 World Cup.

What he ended up do­ing was build­ing a game­plan blue­print for the All Blacks that they still largely use to­day. And he also in­stilled in a gen­er­a­tion of play­ers the sim­ple no­tion that suc­cess at the top came from hard work rather than nat­u­ral tal­ent.

Mains was a bru­tal task master. He ran the play­ers hard at train­ing and some of the ses­sions were leg­endary. No ques­tion, he got the All Blacks fit­ter than they had ever been and con­di­tioned them to dig deep.

But there was a rea­son he wanted them to be fit­ter and it was be­cause he wanted his All Blacks side to utilise their skills bet­ter than the op­po­si­tion. He wanted to play a fast, mo­bile, dy­namic game that was all about con­ti­nu­ity and mov­ing the de­fence.

By the end of 1994, Mains felt the All Blacks had de­vel­oped their in­di­vid­ual skills and fit­ness lev­els to start fully im­ple­ment­ing the wide-wide game he en­vi­sioned.

“At the end of 1994 we started a se­ries of train­ing camps and it was amaz­ing how the new style de­vel­oped,” says former All Blacks cap­tain Sean Fitz­patrick.

“Lau­rie worked on ways to keep the ball o the ground, of get­ting it wide quickly and the game grew.”

Mains was e ec­tively the ar­chi­tect of the cur­rent All Blacks’ wide-wide, o oad­ing game. He was the one who saw the value in hav­ing for­wards who could play the ball out of the tackle and avoid go­ing to deck to set up static, re­cy­cling sit­u­a­tions.

It was Mains who first put into play the idea that test rugby could be ad­ven­tur­ous and cre­ative in the sense that the All Blacks could use power wings to at­tack from deep and keep the ball alive in all parts of the field.

In his fi­nal game in charge at the end of 1995, the All Blacks pro­duced a stun­ning dis­play of run­ning rugby against France that show­cased their skills, am­bi­tion and un­der­stand­ing of space.

It has, kind of, been the guid­ing light per­for­mance for ev­ery All Blacks team since. “You could not ask for more from a match,” said Mains. “It was a tri­umph for the way we play. We were run­ning the ball al­most care­lessly from well in­side our own half, which is barely heard of in test rugby.

“For my last game as coach, it was im­por­tant that they played like that. The sheer de­light of the play­ers in find­ing out that they could play like this has brought me im­mense sat­is­fac­tion.”

47 John Gal­lagher

[1986-1989] CAPS 18

Rugby was in a tricky place in the mid to late 1980s. It was con­sum­ing more train­ing and prepa­ra­tion time and yet still not pay­ing the play­ers.

They were vir­tu­ally be­ing asked to be pro­fes­sional yet re­ceiv­ing no re­ward for it. Re­la­tion­ships be­tween play­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors were tense and in­evitably rugby league clubs started to sni around their ri­val code, look­ing for con­verts to lure to the dark side.

It was a con­stant worry for rugby – that there could be a stam­pede of tal­ent charg­ing into the arms of league clubs who were cashed up and o er­ing what seemed like the world.

Rugby’s pro­tec­tion back then was that it was still a big deal to switch codes. De­fec­tions were seen as dis­loyal and they came with an emo­tional price that team­mates and oth­ers could turn nasty against those who jumped ship.

New Zealand’s play­ers were


un­der­stand­ably at the top of the list of many league clubs and the big­gest worry of all was that if one big name All Black de­fected, it may spark a domino e ect.

This kind of proved to be true and the domino that set the mo­tion o was full­back John Gal­lagher. Born and raised in Eng­land, Gal­lagher came to New Zealand as a teenager to ex­pe­ri­ence a new life and play a bit of rugby.

Turned out he was rather good. His el­e­gant run­ning, tim­ing, dis­tri­bu­tion and aware­ness were ide­ally suited to the All Blacks and he be­came a huge part of their team be­tween 1987 and 1989.

But sud­denly and al­most ran­domly in 1989, he took an o er to join Leeds in the UK. He was a huge sign­ing for league and his de­fec­tion made global head­lines.

It also made a few other All Blacks re­alise that some of the ground work had been laid for them to fol­low suit with a lit­tle less heat be­ing ap­plied for do­ing so.

And so in the next few years John Timu, Inga Tuiga­mala, Craig Innes, John Schus­ter and Frano Bot­ica would all de­part for the 13-man game.

It wasn’t quite the stam­pede New Zealand Rugby had feared but it was a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of play­ers to lose and had an im­pact on the All Blacks.

They weren’t able to e ec­tively re­place Gal­lagher at full­back be­fore the 1991 World Cup and it hurt them.

46 Carl Hay­man [2001-2007]


Af­ter Craig Dowd and Olo Brown re­tired in the late 1990s, the All Blacks tight five lost much of its st­ing.

With­out those two supremely good scrum­mag­ing props, the All Blacks be­came a lit­tle vul­ner­a­ble at set piece.

In fact, their scrum­mag­ing and gen­eral lack of de­struc­tive qual­i­ties in their front row, be­came a point of vul­ner­a­bil­ity.

That much was ex­posed at the 1999 and 2003 World Cups, and when Gra­ham Henry took over as coach in 2004, he made it his first pri­or­ity to re­store the tough­ness of the pack.

He wanted to find a big, solid, dy­namic tight­head prop who could hold the scrum steady and turn the set piece into a weapon. It was go­ing to take a spe­cial player to do that.

New Zealand had got out of the habit of see­ing the scrum as the core role of props and had stopped see­ing the scrum as a pos­si­ble weapon; it had be­come a means to restart the game.

Henry needed a game-changer tight­head not just for the im­me­di­ate fu­ture but as a long term source of in­spi­ra­tion. He wanted a player who could in­flu­ence fu­ture coaches – help them see that how­ever much rugby changed, the key role of the tight­head was never go­ing to move away from scrum­mag­ing.

Carl Hay­man turned out to be that player. At 1.95m and 120kg, he was a huge man and still young when Henry be­gan to pick him reg­u­larly. Hay­man was tough, he was solid and he be­came, in time, a world class scrum­mager. He re­stored the power of the All Blacks scrum and gave them the edge in that area they were look­ing for.

And his in­flu­ence did in­deed stretch be­yond his own play­ing time as Owen Franks, who suc­ceeded Hay­man in the No 3 jer­sey, while not the same size, is very much a sim­i­lar sort of player.

45 An­drew Mehrtens

[1995-2004] CAPS 70

For nearly a decade An­drew Mehrtens wielded enor­mous in­flu­ence in test rugby through his ac­cu­rate goal­kick­ing, de­ci­sion­mak­ing and game man­age­ment.

He was a world class No 10 who kicked his goals when it mat­tered and made de­ci­sive plays when the All Blacks needed them. Mehrtens was a match win­ner on count­less oc­ca­sions and dom­i­nated most of the tests in which he played.

When he signed o in 2004, he did so as ar­guably, at the time, New Zealand’s best No 10 in his­tory and eas­ily the most pro­lific.

His 967 test points felt like a land­mark that would never be beaten, or at least it would take a re­mark­able player to beat it.

“I don’t think you will find any­one who has dom­i­nated a decade of rugby the way Mehrts has,” former Can­ter­bury, Cru­saders and All Blacks coach Rob­bie Deans said when Mehrtens re­tired. “You have only to track our per­for­mance this year as a prov­ince, as a fran­chise and the All Blacks.”

44 Je Wil­son [1993-2001] CAPS 60 & Josh Kronfeld [1995-2000] CAPS 54


Rugby was in se­ri­ous dan­ger of be­ing stolen at the end of the 1995 World Cup. It had reached the stage where the play­ers were no longer pre­pared to give up as much time as they were for no re­ward. Not when the game was clearly gen­er­at­ing huge rev­enue.

De­spite it be­ing ob­vi­ous things had to change, World Rugby dug its heels in and re­fused to con­sider turn­ing pro­fes­sional.

While they buried their head in the sand, Aus­tralian me­dia ty­coon Kerry Packer sent a chap called Ross Turn­bull to sign up the best play­ers and per­suade them to play in what was go­ing to be called the World Rugby Cor­po­ra­tion.

This was go­ing to be a pro­fes­sional rebel tour­na­ment with the play­ers earn­ing huge sign­ing-on fees and then big pay­ments there­after.

It would kill in­ter­na­tional rugby as ev­ery­one knew it, but the play­ers didn’t re­ally care about that a lot when so much money was be­ing put in front of them.

As the World Cup came to a close, most of the ma­jor na­tions had agreed they were go­ing to sign with Turn­bull and rugby was go­ing to be changed for­ever.

The All Blacks would be dec­i­mated – maybe even lost as a re­sult.

If the play­ers all signed, that would be that.

But the New Zealand Rugby Union made a late bid to sal­vage things when they sent former All Black, lawyer and skilled ad­min­is­tra­tor, Jock Hobbs, to ne­go­ti­ate with the All Blacks.

He made a com­pelling case why the play­ers should re­main loyal and while some re­mained un­sure, both Josh Kronfeld and Je Wil­son made the de­ci­sion to stay with the union.

It was a huge call. They turned down the money and, be­ing two of the youngest in the All Blacks squad, they sent a pow­er­ful mes­sage.

Their sig­na­tures were ul­ti­mately able to in­flu­ence oth­ers to fol­low suit and from be­ing on the brink of col­lapse, the game as we know it was saved and Kronfeld and Wil­son had led the way.

As Kronfeld would re­call: “My most in­tense loy­al­ties were with the Otago team. My best mates were there. Otago had been my spring­board to All Black hon­ours. I wanted to con­tinue to be an All Black and, when not play­ing for them, I wanted to turn out for the blue and golds of Otago.

“I felt a lot closer to the Otago guys, and the lo­cal scene gen­er­ally, than I did to the All Blacks.”

Wil­son felt much the same way. He saw it as a loy­alty call and de­cided that if he had gone with the WRC, it would have had a cat­a­strophic im­pact on the things he held most dear.

“If Ross Turn­bull’s WRC plans had suc­ceeded, rugby world-wide would have been dealt a dev­as­tat­ing blow,” Wil­son said in Sea­sons of Gold.

“The All Black thing was a pow­er­ful mag­net, more pow­er­ful than the money. Josh took the view that he had been an All Black in seven tests but he wanted to be a great All Black and play many more.

“My view was that if we didn’t sign there wouldn’t be any All Blacks left. With­out want­ing to sound like a mar­tyr, we had the chance of saving the All Blacks.”

43 Keith Mur­doch

[1970-1972] CAPS 3 The leg­end of Keith Mur­doch has grown over the years to the ex­tent that it has played a huge role in shap­ing the his­tory of the All Blacks.

It is a story that gath­ered world­wide at­ten­tion and added to the leg­end of the world’s most fa­mous rugby team.

Few teams, if any, have such a bizarre in­ci­dent as part of their foot­print, and the fact that the whole busi­ness feels un­fin­ished only adds to the al­lure.

Mur­doch was sent home from the All Blacks tour of the UK in 1972.

He was ac­cused of punch­ing some­one late at night af­ter the All Blacks had beaten Wales in Cardi .

But Mur­doch, pre­sum­ably en­raged that he hadn’t been sup­ported by man­age­ment and had su ered such a hu­mil­i­a­tion, got o the plane in Aus­tralia and never re­turned to New Zealand.

Where he is and what he has been do­ing since has been a con­stant source of fas­ci­na­tion for jour­nal­ists and doc­u­men­tary mak­ers, none of whom have ever been able to per­suade the former prop to tell his side of the story.

“I still think about it ev­ery time Keith Mur­doch’s name comes up, I should have said ‘if he goes we all go’. Keith hadn’t mis­be­haved on that tour…The Bri­tish me­dia had it in for us,” said cap­tain on that tour Ian Kirk­patrick.

42 Dane Coles


CAPS 49 The cur­rent All Blacks hooker is rewriting what is pos­si­ble in his po­si­tion. He is set­ting new ex­pec­ta­tions for hook­ers and in­flu­enc­ing the sort of ath­letes, skills and body shapes play­ers can have to ful­fil that role.

He of­ten plays o the back of the li­ne­out on the op­po­si­tion throw be­cause he has the speed of an open­side, the same abil­ity to chase down the first-five and make a high im­pact tackle.

He can be pushed into the wider chan­nels as he has the pace and o oad­ing skills of an out­side back and as he’s shown, he can cover back and clear his lines as if he’s a full­back.

41 Chris­tian Cullen


CAPS 58 Chris­tian Cullen was a player who ig­nited imag­i­na­tions across the world. He rewrote what was pos­si­ble in an at­tack­ing con­text. He maybe didn’t re­de­fine the full­back role as such, but he opened minds ev­ery­where about what could hap­pen if play­ers were will­ing to trust their in­stincts, run from deep and chal­lenge de­fend­ers.

Cullen was, frankly, bril­liant be­tween 1996 and 1998. As his former Hur­ri­canes and All Blacks team­mate, Alama Ieremia said of him: “He was prob­a­bly the most ta­lented out­side back I’ve played with. He was a very gifted foot­baller. He was a nat­u­ral counter-at­tacker. He would see space and move to­wards that in half a sec­ond. He had mas­sive ac­cel­er­a­tion.”

But for all the tries that Cullen scored and all the bril­liant things he did in his ca­reer, his great­est in­flu­ence was per­haps not of his own mak­ing or of a pos­i­tive na­ture ei­ther.

Cullen was played out of po­si­tion at cen­tre dur­ing the 1999 World Cup. A de­ci­sion that coach John Hart later came to re­gret and one that never quite made sense.

De­spite the fact Cullen made a good job of it, did his best in an un­fa­mil­iar role, the ma­jor con­clu­sion from the 1999 tour­na­ment was that the All Blacks had to pick spe­cial­ists in spe­cial­ist roles.


LOY­ALTY CALL Je Wil­son and Josh Kronfeld made re­spec­tive huge de­ci­sions to stay with rugby. MYTHS AND LEG­ENDS The story of Keith Mur­doch has added to the his­tory of the All Blacks.

GAME BOY An­drew Mehrtens in­flu­enced the out­come of count­less tests.

SCRUM MASTER Carl Hay­man be­came the blue­print for modern props.

LEAGUE OF HIS OWN John Gal­lagher was the first of many All Blacks to de­fect to league.

TOUGH LOVE Many All Blacks came to love the tough edge to Lau­rie Mains.

LEG­END OF BEAVER Stephen Don­ald shaped NZ rugby his­tory with one kick.

CALM IN THE STORM Reuben Thorne’s qual­i­ties were in­spi­ra­tional.

RUN­NING MAN Chris­tian Cullen could split al­most any de­fence.

NEW PO­SI­TION Dane Coles is rewriting what is pos­si­ble for a hooker.

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