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Len's rugby years

MARYKE PENMAN
Last updated 10:13 13/09/2012
Len
Photo: MARYKE PENMAN
RECALL: Torbay man Len Wong, 76, right, believes he was the first Chinese man to play top rugby.

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Len Wong, 76, is as much a Kiwi bloke as any when it comes to rugby.

The Torbay resident believes he was the first Chinese man to ever play top rugby and says he started playing to fit in.

Mr Wong contacted the North Shore Times after reading an article quoting a university professor who said rugby needed to do more to attract Asian players.

He once played alongside All Blacks Sir Wilson Whineray, Arthur Jennings and Paul Little.

Mr Wong was six when he came to New Zealand with his family on the MS Wanganella.

"When we arrived all of us Chinese that ended up in Browns Bay were given the last name Wong, those in Milford were Chan and those in Ponsonby were Young," Mr Wong says. "As you can imagine I got hell when I was a kid. I thought, ‘well I better start doing things the other kids do'.

"So I started playing rugby and cricket. I soon became one of them."

He made the Roller Mills team along with All Black Paul Little in 1949.

"I was smaller than most, but if the other team gave me stick my team-mates would stand up for me."

Mr Wong was named in the Auckland representative team in 1951.

Back then All Blacks would wait up to 12 years between tours so they all played club rugby, Mr Wong says.

"There were 14 who I played with in the Auckland competition each week."

A Rugby Weekly magazine from 1959 included the following on Mr Wong's performance for Northcote against Sir Wilson Whineray's Grammar team.

"Wong showed a nice appreciation of cover defence for Northcote. There's not much of him for a senior five eighth, but if he lacks inches he doesn't lack courage."

Any prejudice was short lived when people discovered he played rugby, Mr Wong says.

"I'd be out with my Kiwi wife and we'd get funny stares. But once people found out all of a sudden they were my best mate."

Mr Wong says he never dreamed of wearing the black jersey despite his passion for the game.

"Back then professionals would be lucky to get paid any more than an electrician. But I did enjoy watching.

"We used to queue up at Eden Park the night before an All Blacks game to get into the terraces."

Mr Wong weighed 75kg at his peak and says he would never make it to the level he did today because players are bigger and stronger. Guys in my position now are over 90kg, he says.

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- North Shore Times

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