Rutledge remembers good friend and team-mate Oliver
'He was a very good leader of men'LOGAN SAVORY
Leicester Rutledge regards his long-time Southland team-mate Frank Oliver as the best leader of men and says opposition teams were in fear of him.
Oliver's sudden death in Palmerston North on Monday night has shocked the New Zealand rugby community.
The rugged lock played 17 games for the All Blacks from 1976 to 1981 and played 64 games for Southland from 1969 to 1978 before he shifted to Otago and then Manawatu.
He was originally from South Otago but shifted south as a youngster to join the Invercargill police.
Rutledge was one of those who was shocked when he received a call on Monday night to say Oliver had died suddenly.
"I played freezing works rugby with Frank, I played most of my Southland rugby with Frank and I played all of my All Black rugby with Frank.
"He was obviously an outstanding rugby player and probably the best leader I played under. He was a very good leader of men.
"But I think the thing that really stood out for me with Frank is I remember coming into the Southland team as a young guy and he really looked after those young guys, he basically taught us the ropes on and off the field. Off the field was a lot of fun with Frank, we had some great times," he said.
Rutledge said he could write a book with all the tales of his times with Oliver but most probably it wouldn't be fit for print.
The two were team-mates in the 1978 All Blacks' Grand Slam tour and Rutledge said the opposition took a backward step when it come to Oliver.
"In '78 he was playing probably some of the best rugby he ever played. He was certainly feared among the opposition, they couldn't believe how strong he was for his size. He had total respect from everyone right around the world."
He also carried the enforcer tag right through his 64 games for Southland, Rutledge said.
"I remember one game against Canterbury, him and Grizz [Wylie] were always at loggerheads on the paddock and poor old Fergie [McCormick] poked his nose in this time and got a short, sharp right.
"He was up against the goal posts at the Supporters' Club end [of Rugby Park] and I could slowly see his knees sinking to the ground and Frank standing over top of him."
During Oliver's time in Southland he played his club rugby for Marist, joining as a teenager. He made an immediate impression.
Jeremy Winders recalls his late father Bert - who coached Oliver at Marist - telling him he knew Frank would become an All Black from the very early days of coaching him.
"I remember Dad telling me he was only a kid from the sticks when he came onto the scene with Marist and Bert said he was one of the toughest rugby players he ever coached."
Alan Blackler played with Oliver, coached him and played against him during the fierce Star-Marist rivalries of the 1970s.
"He was hard but fair. I remember playing for Star against him and I was at the bottom of a ruck and I saw this foot coming . . . and it stopped about a foot away. He said 'you, you little bugger, get out of there'."
- The Southland Times
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