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SIR BRIAN LOCHORE - RUGBY ICON

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SIR BRIAN LOCHORE - RUGBY ICON

SIR BRIAN LOCHORE - RUGBY ICON

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IN New Zealand Rugby’s Parade of Legends, some stand just above the rest.

Tom Ellison, a pioneer player whose idea it was that New Zealand teams should wear black with a silver fern.

David Gallaher, maybe not a great player, but a man who set the standard as captain for all who would follow, who served the game at every possible avenue.

Richie McCaw, the first captain to hold the World Cup aloft twice, and whose mix of inspiring leadership, commitment to excellence and sheer bravery may never be matched.

But it is doubtful that there has been a single person who has influenced the game at so many different levels and in so many profound ways as Sir Brian Lochore.

Firstly as a player.

Since having to abandon its traditional, controversial 2-3-2 scrum formation in the late 1930s, New Zealand Rugby had never really defined the role of the No.8 forward; never really found someone who commanded the position.

From the time, the All Blacks returned to the international fold after WWII until the time Brian Lochore made his debut in 1963, the All Blacks had used 25 players in the No.8 role in just 56 tests.

John Graham with seven and Dick Conway with six tests had played the most at “last man down” and both were tremendous players, but in reality more suited to flanker, or “breakaway” as it was often known as. 

Others had been tried out, including Colin and Stan Meads, Kel Tremain, Keith Nelson and even prop Ian Clarke had a series against Australia from No.8 before heading back to the front row.

By 1965, Fred Allen had decided Lochore, himself more accustomed to the side of the scrum, would be his man.

Not only did he make the position his own for the next six years, he defined it.

With his mix of ball winning ability (he was a fine lineout forward), his loping running game and trademark cover defence, he established the legacy of great All Black No.8’s, to be built on by the likes of Murray Mexted, Buck Shelford, Zinzan Brooke and Kieran Read.

“Fred the Needle” also decided that, once Wilson Whineray had retired, Lochore was his captain, an inspired move at the outset of an incredible unbeaten run that would stretch through to 1970.

Allen promoted Lochore ahead of more experienced campaigners like Meads, Kel Tremain and Chris Laidlaw, a bold call, but one that Lochore never gave rise to question; such was his calm authority, his outstanding ability as a player, and his commitment to hard, fast, and fair rugby.

The story of Brian Lochore, All Black player and captained deserved a better ending than it got.

A great looking team went to South Africa in 1970 but with Fred Allen having jumped in fear of a conspiracy to unseat him, lacked a coach to get the best out of them, and with all the usual issues unique to touring South Africa in those days thrown in, lost the series 3-1.

He was famously called out of retirement to play the third test against the great 1971 Lions, and so his career ended on a bleak afternoon at Athletic Park. Again, he deserved better.

But while his playing days might have ended there, fortunately his role in New Zealand rugby was not even half done.

He transformed Wairarapa-Bush into a competitive first division side and inevitably became an All Black selector in 1983.

Under the old system of “wait your turn”, Lochore might have had to wait until Tiny Hill had had a go as coach of the national team, but he was pushed up the queue and took on the top job in 1985.

It is hard to imagine more difficult circumstances than those he faced.

Rugby was still under fire over the South African issue, spinal injuries, and those, especially women who’d had enough of rugby’s domineering, chauvinistic ways.

A better image was desperately needed, but the insistence of nearly all of New Zealand’s elite players in touring South Africa come hell or high water once again resulted in another split, another public furore.

Lochore managed to calm the waters, bring together factions in the team - he even for a brief but magnificent period managed to get Grizz Wyllie and John Hart working off the same page, and the result was a triumph, a commanding win at the inaugural World Cup.

Those same qualities came to the fore again in 1995.

Firstly, he was appointed as campaign manager for the World Cup, easing significant tensions between the team and the media with his “fireside chat” type press conferences, allowing Laurie Mains and Colin Meads to focus on the team.

And then when the WRC (World Rugby Corporation) blindsided the move to professionalism,  it was down to Sir Brian and Jock Hobbs to firstly gather together enough players to ensure there were actually going to be some teams to pay, and then set to work on winning over the prized elite.

Those who dealt with Lochore during those times will tell you it was not just his ability to talk wisely that won the day; it was his ability to listen. It’s a trait that too few people seem to have these days, and one Sir Brian had in spades.

Not just in dealing with the players and officials either. He loved talking footy, and never gave the impression he wasn’t interested in someone else’s opinion.

His sage wisdom became part of the Graham Henry era up to the 2007 World Cup. He never made a big deal about it, but was of the belief that one of the big factors in New Zealand infamous downfall in that tournament was too many players planning their big post World Cup moves when they should have been focussing on the now.

It was something that has not been allowed to repeat. He made sure of that.

In his final years, he was patron of New Zealand Rugby, but really, he didn’t need a title.

Just being there was enough. He was the most humble of men, but could in his unassuming manner, make  people feel that they were in the presence of greatness - a trait matched only by Colin Meads, his late mate, the guy above anyone else Lochore wanted by his side going into sporting battle.

It wasn’t just rugby either. He chaired the Hillary Commission, and was on the Queen Elizabeth II Trust. He was a very good tennis player, and a useful horseman who once considered a career as a jockey!

Above all, he was a man of the land, a family man. 

We send our love to Pam and the family, as we mourn the passing of a great New Zealander.