Pacey plans to call time on long career

Arthur typifies all that is good about rugby

RUGBY PETER JONES
Last updated 05:00 03/05/2014

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Arthur Pacey is a rugby man. From the square toes of his trademark O'Brien boots to the Moutere emblem he wears proudly on his chest, Arthur typifies all that is good about our national game at grassroots level.

The soon-to-be 90-year-old has been involved in rugby for most of his life - playing, coaching, administering and just helping out. Doing the little jobs that ensure the smooth running of a successful club.

But what makes Arthur stand out from the pack is his remarkable playing durability. After starting out as a teenager at Kaikoura in 1943, he is expected to turn out for the Vintage Musseleers golden oldies team again this season, his 71st year of rugby and his 60th with Moutere.

Arthur played in seven senior title-winning Moutere sides, turning out for the Magpies from 1954 until 1992, when he played his final full-contact match, for the senior reserves in Kaikoura. Still keen to be physically involved, he turned to golden oldies rugby.

"[The oldies] started out in the 80s with the Moutere Magpies, then in 1988 we went to Brisbane on a trip and that was the end of the oldies at Moutere. But I kept going and we started the Musseleers. I've been in a variety of different coloured shorts. I'm in purple now," he explains.

But now the former Red Devils and South Island Maori prop is considering hanging up the trusty O'Briens.

"I'm calling it quits this year," he said. "I've got to, I can't run. I watched a couple of old jokers one time and they were down to a shuffle. I said ‘I'm not going to play when I get like that. I'm not going to insult the game with that'."

Arthur has led a diverse and interesting life. Born in Kaikoura in December 1924, his family moved from there to Parnassus in 1936, then made their home at Oaro. Arthur branched out on his own soon after, working for Charlie Marfell near Seddon from 1940-41 on a labour scheme for young men, for "a pound a week and keep", he recalls.

Not enamoured with the farming life, he went home to Oaro in 1942, then joined the Public Works as a kitchen hand in the Marlborough Sounds, helping put the submarine listening posts on Long Island during the war. After "graduating from the kitchen" he became a winch operator and worked at the Tory Channel whaling station, then as a plumber's assistant at Curious Cove.

In 1943, Arthur returned home then joined the Air Force as a trainee pilot, based initially at the Delta, near Blenheim, then at various North Island bases over the following two years. But soon he was back in the mainland, living with his aunt and uncle (the Timms family) in Picton, and playing rugby out of the Waitohi club. He resigning from the Air Force when he came back to the South Island but soon signed up again, this time with the New Zealand Army as an artillery man, and it wasn't long before he was sent on active service, into the war zones of Korea in 1950 with the 16th Field Regiment, 163 Battery, Easy Troop.

After nearly two years in war-torn Korea, Arthur returned to Picton and landed a job on the railways, with a bridge gang. "I liked [the job] so much I stayed there," he recalled.

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In 1954 he moved to the Wairau Pa, married Pena Roberts in 1959, and began his involvement with the Moutere Magpies, Marlborough's most successful club.

"In 1954 Waitohi went into recess, they never had a premier team, so I came to Moutere and have been here ever since," Arthur explained.

But his rugby-playing career started much earlier, and underlined his versatility. After playing for Oaro as a winger in his earliest days, Arthur also turned out for the Air Force in the backs. He played for Waitohi from 1947-50, being picked for the Marlborough reps in 1949 as a side row forward-cum-fullback, but never taking the field. His omission was explained by a rep selector who told Arthur that if he had carried on playing fullback, he would have been in the reps, "but we couldn't put a joker who was a forward one week and a fullback the next week in there".

But the selectors saw sense the following year, picking Arthur as a side row forward who played all the rep matches that season before leaving for Korea. He turned out for the New Zealand regiment team in Korea, recalling one notable occasion his team beat the Aussie troops twice in the same day; "we beat them at rugby, then turned around and beat them at league".

But again he ended up in the backs, despite his loud protestations. "I couldn't get in the forwards. I told them, I had just played a whole season for Marlborough as a side row forward, against some of the best teams in New Zealand and I can't even get into your pack."

Best known as a goal-kicking prop, Arthur made the move into the front row in 1955. He explains, "Marlborough selector Jim Finlay was scratching his head for a prop after first choice Hec Wilson was injured. He asked me if I could play front row, and I told him I could play anywhere on the paddock. He said ‘you're in the team' and that's how I got to play there. I played every game for Marlborough that year." This despite Arthur never having played in the front row before, even at club level.

Arthur went on to play 34 matches for Marlborough, the highlight of his rep involvement coming in 1959 when he got his hands on the prized Seddon Shield after beating Nelson 14-13 at Trafalgar Park.

"That was the greatest delight I had. We hadn't had [the shield] for so long, 13 years I think it was. So many good footballers never had the pleasure of winning the shield. But I got my hands on it."

Arthur kicked 11 points in the successful challenge, including the match-winning goal from 35 metres on the angle with 15 minutes to go. Initially the team's leaders were reluctant to give Arthur the final kick, suggesting he was beginning to lose kicking power. "But I told them I always kicked the ball to go over the bar, not to the other side of the world."

Marlborough only held the shield for one game, although Arthur reckons they would have kept it longer if they hadn't been saddled with a strenuous four matches in 10 days on a tour of the North Island before fronting up to the challenge of West Coast on Saturday. "The guys were dead, lethargic, and didn't get going until the second half. It was a real shame."

Goalkicking had always been a major part of Arthur's rugby skillset. Fittingly, his most memorable shot at goal came at Awarua Park. In those days players could kick for goal after claiming a mark, but a team-mate had to hold the ball off the ground until just before it was kicked, to stop the opposition charging the mark. "It was right on halfway, by the grandstand," Arthur remembers. "Iwi [MacDonald] was holding the ball. I hit it well and over she went. But Ian Wilson was the referee and ruled it out.

"I said ‘what? It was worth three points for the effort'. [The ref] said Iwi didn't put it on the ground. I said ‘bull...., I would have kicked his bloody hand off if he hadn't'. But it didn't count. That was my mightiest kick of the lot of them."

He has also had the pleasure of playing with some memorable and talented characters. "There were plenty of guys who could have been All Blacks. One for sure was Kerry Hodges, he was one of the best around. Ray Sutherland was consistently good, a terrific lineout man. Lewis Green never got the push he should have got. And Doug Elkington was a very good first five," he recalled.

As in most sports, politics is never far below the surface and Arthur encountered his share while trying to win a prized NZ Maori jersey.

In 1957 he was chosen for the South Island [Te Waipounamu] team, ironically after he had played for Marlborough against them, and went to Gisborne to play the East Coast for the Prince of Wales Cup, basically a Maori All Black trial. He felt he had a chance to make the New Zealand side. "I thought I played pretty well that day," he recalled."I had a shot goal from 70 metres, with a nor'westerly behind me. It just dropped under the bar." After the match George Nepia [the legendary All Blacks fullback] had a word. "You just want to prop [the ball] up a little bit more," he advised Arthur. "You'll be in the team boy, you'll be in the team," he suggested.

"But when it came around I wasn't even mentioned in dispatches," said Arthur. "And the bloke that got in was the son-in-law of the selector. That's how it was those days."

While he still follows the modern game, he is no fan of the direction it is taking.

"I've got no time for today's rugby. It's altered that much. When we played the main focus of the game was the ball . . . there was no taking out players like they do now. Even when you are nowhere near the ball, you get ripped out of it. There was no lifting in the lineouts . . . if you got the ball you earned it.

"They say it has sped the game up but it has gone backwards. If you took the time the infringements take up, against the actual playing time, you would be in deficit. There's no playing . . . just rules, rules, rules. The scrums now are stupid, they take about five minutes to set, then the ref has to tell them when to put the ball in.

"We just went in and packed it down. If a guy was being stupid, you just let him know."

Although Arthur is thinking of finally quitting the playing fields, his presence at Awarua Park will remain. After having served on the committee for more years than he can remember, coaching a championship-winning senior team and helping with the grounds for the past "20-30 years", he is now the scoreboard attendant, "but [keeping up] is hard. I'm getting blind. I have to watch the line umpires to see if the goals go over".

So, can he imagine how his life would have been without rugby? "I'd have probably done a lot more hunting," he said.

"We used to go hunting on Saturday morning before the game. We got fit from hunting. Some coaches tried to get us to do fitness work at training though. One coach said, ‘c'mon Arthur, keep up with them'. I said, ‘you tell them to keep up with me on Saturday'."

- The Marlborough Express

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