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Reunion for 1963 Wellington College First XV at Quad Tournament

  • By Steven White

The 1963 Wellington College First XV won the annual Quadrangular Tournament without having their line breached, beating Christ’s College 11-0 and Whanganui Collegiate 14-0. They are having a reunion at next week’s 97th annual Quadrangular Tournament at Wellington College.

This team included a future All Black, a NPC-winning Wellington captain, a Junior All Black who sadly passed away less than three years after finishing school and several players who would go on to play representative rugby for Wellington teams and other provinces.

The future All Black was Mark Sayers, who would play 15 internationals in the midfield on their 1972-73 of Britain and France and play 93 times for Wellington.

Prop Al Keown played 149 matches for Wellington and captained Wellington in their inaugural NPC title winning season in 1978. He was an All Black trialist in 1971, 1972 and 1974. He passed away soon after retiring in 1979.

Lock Steve Letica was widely picked to be a future All Black, but after playing for the Wellington Colts, Wellington B and the Junior All Blacks in 1965 and 1966 he died aged 20 in May 1967.

Other representative players from this team included Rick Ussher (Poverty Bay and New Zealand Universities), Graeme Ussher (Wairarapa), Doug Lingard (Otago and NZU) and David Heather (NZU).

Rick Ussher locked Poverty Bay’s scrum against the British and Irish Lions in 1971, while midfielder Graeme Ussher later moved to Australia and turned down a Wallabies trial whilst there.

Several players also went on to play Senior A club rugby in Wellington, for Wellington College Old Victoria University (now Old Boys University) and the Wellington Axemen.

Team captain David Heather said that this team forged lifelong friendships and there are special memories.

“We believe that we have been the only XV to win the Quadrangular Tournament without having our line crossed, that’s our story!

“We had an interesting year, we lost to both St Pat’s Town [5-9], who were captained by Robert Gray and Rongotai College [0-8], who were captained by Graham Williams. But we had wins over both Hutt Valley High School [11-3] and St Pat’s Silverstream [25-11], and then won Quadrangular.”

The team played in a very competitive WRFU U20 competition, which featured recent First XV players. In 20 matches in 1963, the Wellington College First XV won 14, lost six and scored 287 points and conceded 128.

“It was also a new-look First XV, with just three players having been in the side the previous year. Plus, we had a new coach in Taffy Clare, who took over from Frank Crist after 11 years at the helm.”

Of note, flanker and vice-captain Dave Coombe was not allowed to play in the Quadrangular because he was over-age as per the tournament rules.

“Players who have passed on include Rick and Graeme Ussher, All Keown, Steve Letica and Geoff Naulls. Steve passed away in 1967, and I am sure he would have been an All Black. We always believed Al Keown should have worn an All Black jersey.”

Letica’s name lives on at the Old Boys University club. The OBU Colts and the Wellington College First XV meet annually for the Letica Cup.

“We are hoping that eight former players will be with us at Tournament.”

Captain Heather was second-five outside Mark Sayers, and they continued playing together at University. “We played six years of senior rugby, so we know each other’s call signs. Quite a few Nelson College players also played on the Victoria University campus.”

What’s more, this team at Tournament didn’t wear numbers on their backs – by Headmaster’s decree.

“We were not allowed to wear numbers as it was a team game not an individual affair! Yeah Right!”

A bumper crowd of over three thousand watched the final day of the 1963 Quadrangular, and it was broadcast live by Bryan Russ with two assistants telling him who the players were and who had the ball, in lieu of numbers.

On day one, Wellington College beat Christ’s 11-0, and then it was on to the final against Whanganui Collegiate, who had drawn with Nelson College 9-9 but made the final.

The Dominion newspaper covered the final the next morning:

“Four fine tries by the three-quarters and a conversion gave Wellington College a convincing 14-0 win over Wanganui Collegiate in the final of the inter-collegiate quadrangular rugby tournament at Wellington College yesterday.

“Wellington’s win was a splendid team effort. Its forwards conquered the powerful Wanganui pack and its backs moved with vim and purpose.

“Wellington led 5-0 at halftime after a torrid, even first half. In the second half Wanganui wilted badly in the face of Wellington’s sustained pressure and the home team added three more tries.”

For Wellington College, centre Ross Crotty scored in the first half and wings Geoff Naulls and Gavin Jack scored in the second. Fullback Bruce Waddell converted the first try.

1963 Wellington College First XV Senior A [Premier] honours:

  • Bruce Waddel (Wellington College Old Boys)
  • Geoff Naulls (Wellington College Old Boys)
  • Al Keown (Wellington College Old Boys)
  • Steve Letica (Wellington College Old Boys)
  • Evan Purdie (Wellington Football Club)
  • David Heather (Victoria University)
  • Ross Crotty (Victoria University)
  • Mark Sayers (Victoria university)
  • Rick Ussher (Massey University)
  • Graeme Ussher (Martinborough)
  • Pete Gully (Paraparaumu)
  • Doug Lingard (Otago university, Victoria University)

1963 Wellington College First XV Senior representative honours:

  • Bruce Waddel (Wellington Colts)
  • All Keown (Wellington A & B and Colts, All Black trialist)
  • Steve Letica (Wellington,Colts, Junior All Black)
  • Mark Sayers (Wellington A & B, NZ Universities, All Blacks)
  • Rick Ussher (Poverty Bay, NZ Universities)
  • Graeme Ussher (Wairarapa)
  • Doug Lingard (Otago, NZ Universities)
  • David Heather (NZ Universities)


Day One 27 June draw:

Whangnui Collegiate v Nelson College, 1200pm

Christ’s College v Wellington College, 13opm

Day Two 29 June draw:

Defeated v Defeated from Day One, 12.00pm

Winners v Winners from Day One (Final), 1.30pm

Pioneers of Rugby in Wellington: 017 J.M. Thomson

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