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Under 85kg All Blacks

Above: The All Blacks perform the haka in front front of H.M. The Queen and H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh in 1967. The All Blacks were no flyweights then, but still considerably smaller than today’s counterparts. Original Photo: Sport & General Press Agency Ltd, London, 11/67.

The National Under 85kg Knockout Barbarians Cup is growing in popularity as the finalists are whittled down to two by September 17.
The National Under 85kg Cup produced three thrilling games in Wellington this past Saturday that were decided by less than a try.

The tournament won by Eden of Auckland last year attracted 53 teams for the 2021 addition and features many Premier players nationwide.

Who would make an all-time All Blacks Under-85kg selection?

Few All Blacks are Under-85kg, especially today, but a combination of history and ingenuity could produce a very decent Under-85kg All Blacks side that we think would go deep in this tournament. Here is a Club Rugby selection:

15. Christian Cullen – Weighed exactly 85kg, but with some Friday fasting, could make a Saturday test line-up. Longtime All Blacks commentator Grant Nesbitt described Cullen as the best player he’s ever seen. With a record 56 tries in 85 games for the Hurricanes and 46 tries in 60 tests for the All Blacks, he edges the likes of Damian McKenzie, Billy Wallace and John Gallagher in the starting team.

14. Terry Wright – The 1987 World Cup winner was a prolific try scorer at all levels of rugby crossing for 177 tries in 217 first class matches, second on the all-time list. Wright was a mainstay of the Auckland Ranfurly Shield era from 1985 to 1993 and at 183cm could even be used as a lock in this lightweight selection.

13. Bert Cooke – The leading try scorer on the 1924/25 ‘Invincibles’ tour, Cooke would make an Under-65kg side. He scored 119 tries in 131 first-class games and was often described as the “the most brilliant back in the All Black team.” He played senior rugby for Auckland aged 40 and joined the Air Force in WWII. He played his first-class rugby for Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa and Wellington and was involved in several famous Ranfurly Shield challenges and defences.

Bert Cooke in 1924 – midfield lightweight genius.

12. Warwick Taylor – A 1987 World Cup winner, starting the final against France, Taylor played 20 games for Otago in 1980-81 while completing his physical education degree before moving to Christchurch where he was the rock of the Canterbury midfield which retained the Ranfurly Shield 25 times between 1982 and 1985. The Shirley Boys’ High School teacher is also an astute radio commentator on the game.

11. Ron Jarden – Nicknamed Donkey because of his anatomical prowess. His try scoring prowess was even more legendary, scoring 145 tries in 134 first-class games. Barely ten stone when he first debuted for Wellington, Jarden matured into one of the most dominant players of the 50s. He was the most famous Wellington player of the 1950s and was also known as the Ace of Match-winners. He won four Jubilee Cup championships with University and held the 800 metres record at Hutt Valley High School until it was broken by Nick Wills in 2000.

10. Mark Nicholls– Equally comfortable at second-five, a British critic wrote of him on the Invincibles tour of 1924/25 that he had shown “a conception of the New Zealand game that amounted to genius.” He was the leading points scorer on the 32-0 tour with 121 points, a tally that only included one try because he was often setting up Burt Cooke and Jack Steel.  When he retired he was the leading points scorer in New Zealand first-class rugby with 619 points in 124 games. The prolific Grant Fox would be an ideal replacement in wet conditions. Special mention to his brother Harry “Ginger” Nicholls who played for Wellington and briefly for the All Blacks at halfback in the early 1920s and who was 58kg dripping wet.

9. Aaron Smith – The first All Black halfback to play 100 tests gets the nod ahead of greats like Sid Going and Dave Loveridge. Smith has won 84 times for his country, including the 2015 World Cup. His rapid pass and leadership is currently peerless in his position. With a contemporary gym program he could possibly slip into the forwards in this team too.

Aaron Smith at the forefront of the All Blacks haka in 2020 – few All Blacks would come close to qualifying for this team nowadays, even if put on a strict weight-loss diet for weeks in advance. According to the charts online, Smith weights 83kg. PHOTO: Mike Lewis Pictures 

8. George Nepia –The champion fullback was the most iconic player of the 1924/25 Invincibles tour but is moved into the forwards for this selection with his All Blacks profile noting:  “Besides his natural talent, Nepia had a sturdy physique and for his era was big for a back at 1.75m and 82kg, which meant he was not much smaller than some of his forward contemporaries. He could kick powerfully, defend fiercely, was a master of the smother tackle and was fearless retrieving the ball from the feet of onrushing forwards.” These attributes, plus the thought of Nepia flying off the back of the scrum, make Nepia hard to overlook.

7. Cliff Porter – The captain of the 1924 Invincibles was a product of Wellington College where he made the First XV in 1915. An industrious, lively attacker and a robust tackler or spoiler, he mastered the wing forward position which is best imagined today as an openside flanker. Porter played for the Athletic club in Wellington for many years.

Cliff Porter – disruptive. All Black, Mr Cliff Porter, in rugby uniform. Crown Studios Ltd :Negatives and prints. Ref: 1/1-032993-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22758744

6. Andrew White –  “Son” White was one of the most valuable players on the Invincibles tour with legendary teammate Mark Nicholls noting: “He was one of the fittest and most fearless of our forwards, and for fast, controlled dribbling, he was unsurpassed.” Standing at six foot he didn’t play senior rugby until he was 25. Service in Gallipoli left White with chronic sickness and diarrhoea. But he then went on to serve at the other infamous battlegrounds of WWI, the Somme, Messines and Passchendaele. Even worse he was court-martialled in 1917 for leaving his billet without permission, being drunk and striking a military policeman. For this he spent four weeks being daily tied to a post. An All Black captain in three matches, 38 of his 75 first class appearances were for the All Blacks, including the Ireland, French and English victories on the Invincibles tour.

5. Bill Clark – “The Seagull ” represented Wellington with great distinction from 1951 to 1958 and was regarded as the All Blacks best loose forward on the 1953-54 British and French tour. He was also involved in the 1956 Springboks series win. Standing at 185cm the University club legend is switched to lock here owing to his superior height in this group.

4. Dave Gallaher – The captain of the 1905 ‘Originals’ was a big forward in his time, standing 183cm and 84kg. An astute captain and fearless tackler he was a wing forward in his time. With only seven forwards in the scrum, the eighth forward, the ‘rover’ or wing forward, was free to put the ball into the scrum and to harass the opposing halves. The position was discontinued after the 1930 Britsh and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand, but with his height and all-round excellence in forward play he would act like a fourth loose forward in this contemporary setting.

3. John Graham – All Black captain, for 21 years headmaster of Auckland Grammar School, rugby coach, company director, businessman, commissioner of the troubled Nga Tapuwae College, manager of the New Zealand Cricket team and Chancellor of the University of Auckland, Graham carried many responsibilities on his shoulders as a leading flanker of the 60s. Intelligent and quick he’s the ideal anchor of the scrum.

2. Quinten Donald – Played 10 seasons for Wairarapa, and alongside Bull Irvine appeared in all four internationals on the 1924 Invincibles tour. From a rugged farming background he was a distinctive figure on the field like Eastbourne’s Partick Jones and half the Avalon pack because of his prematurely balding palate. Damian McKenzie was considered in a number of positions with obviously the

Bull Irvine – 83kg raging bull prop and hooker of NZ rugby in the 1920s. W. R. Irvine. Crown Studios Ltd :Negatives and prints. Ref: 1/2-204774-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22776820

backs being his most natural place, but with his brave defence, superior skill, and the tendency of the modern hooker to room on the edges of the attack hooker wouldn’t be the worst place for the 79kg terrier Donald.

1. Bull Irvine – Played a remarkable 27 matches on the Invincibles tour, and alongside Donald was a key reason in the All Black success. He was a household name in Ranfurly Shield matches, featuring in the 24-game-tenure by Hawke’s Bay’s between 1922 and 1926 and featuring for Wairarapa against Hawke’s Bay in the infamous 1927 ‘Battle of Solway.’

Coaches: Fred Allen won all 14 tests as head coach in the 60s and Wayne Smith was a part of the 2011 and 2015 World Cup trumphis. Both were All Black five-eights in the 40s and 80s respectively.

Notable Omissions: Almost every All Black halfback was a contender for selection. Bruce Roberston, Red Conway and Eric Rush were all 86kg. John Gallagher, Glen Osborne, John Timu, Walter Little, Ron Rangi, Aaron Cruden, Billy Wallace, Jimmy Duncan and Merv Corner are among those unlucky not to make the cut. Like Harry Nicholls (noted above), Corner struggled to tip the scales past 58kg and the two have been noted in pub quizzes as the lightest All Blacks ever. Both would be picked on the bench in this team for that reason alone.

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2 thoughts on “Under 85kg All Blacks

  1. My uncle would have been a contender weighing in at 79kgs Steve Pokere

    Not a bad all black in his time.

  2. Pretty sure Scott Waldrom would take the 7 jersey. In fact, he already has lining up for Avalon in 85s in 2021.

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