RUGBY legend Fred "The Needle" Allen of Tindalls Bay, the most successful All Blacks coach ever, can today savour his first day as Sir Frederick.
He became a Companion Knight of the Order of New Zealand in yesterday's Queen's Birthday honours. That news has delighted the players he moulded into a world-beating team – including stars such as Sir Brian Lochore and Sir Wilson Whineray.
Their views were summed up by Sir Colin "Pinetree" Meads when he was asked why Fred Allen had not already been knighted.
"Good question," he said. "He should have been the first of us."
"That's typical of the generous attitude of Pinetree and the others," says Sir Frederick. "I've been lucky to have worked with such a great bunch.
"My only regret is that my lovely wife, Norma, isn't here to share this honour.
"But then Norma didn't need to be officially recognised as a lady because she really was a truly exceptional lady."
Norma Allen died last September.
A congratulatory letter from Prime Minister John Key says the knighthood acknowledges Sir Frederick's services to New Zealand.
"Our success as a nation relies on citizens from all walks of life stepping forward, helping others, seeking new ways and reaching for their dreams," Mr Key says.
"You have made an outstanding contribution to that success and enriched the lives of us all. This honour gives the people you have touched the chance to show their appreciation for your hard work, your dedication and your achievements. It also gives the New Zealand public the opportunity to recognise your efforts.
"On behalf of the government, my parliamentary colleagues and all New Zealanders, thank you."
Mr Key was endorsing views expressed by Auckland mayor John Banks in February when he hosted a civic luncheon commemorating Sir Frederick's 90th birthday.
Mr Banks said Sir Frederick was "one of our greatest living New Zealanders".
Sir Frederick distinguished himself as the star of a triumphant tour of Britain by a team from the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force in 1945 and 1946.
By 1949 he had played for and captained the All Blacks 29 times.
But he was renowned for his skill as a motivating coach which won him the nickname The Needle.
As Auckland's selector-coach from 1957 to 1963 Sir Frederick led the province to a previously unmatched 26-game defence of the Ranfurly Shield.
He is also the only unbeaten coach in All Black history without a single defeat in 37 international games. He is alone in having been inducted twice into the New Zealand Sporting Hall of Fame – as the country's finest coach and as a member of the army team.
In 2005 he received one of rugby's highest honours when he was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame in London. But few of his admirers have any inkling of his full heroic story.
In 1940 he nudged his age up a year because he was too young at 20 to volunteer for military service. He served as an army officer in New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands and Egypt.
At the age of 24 he escaped death by inches while leading an infantry platoon chasing Germans through Italy.
"We were being shielded behind a tank and there was a brief lull in the fighting," he says. "I hadn't shaved for five or six days and thought this would be a good time.
"I asked the tank commander to throw down my bag from up by the turret. He did and I unwittingly saved my life by somehow missing a comparatively easy catch.
"As I stooped to pick up the bag a shell splattered us with shrapnel and the tank commander was killed immediately. I was wounded in the shoulder and down one side but if I'd been standing – no doubt about it – I'd have been cut in half.
"It's sickening and frightening when you see mates having arms or heads blown off. But you go on doing what needs to be done – particularly if you're a leader. You must set an example."
And that attitude has shone throughout the career of the man who yesterday became Sir Frederick Richard Allen OBE.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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