Great All Blacks fullback Bob Scott dies at 91

FINE PLAYER: Bob Scott dies aged 91.
FINE PLAYER: Bob Scott dies aged 91.

Rugby watchers of the 1940s and 1950s continue to swear there has never been a better fullback than All Blacks great Bob Scott, who died today, aged 91.

An All Black from 1946-54, even the small amount of film available of his career is enough to convince those who were never lucky enough to see Scott play that he was a supreme player.

Black and white footage shows his magnificent body control, his ability to swerve, feint and sidestep to beat on-rushing forwards, his tremendous punting and his flair.

Those skills would have stood up even under today's searching spotlight, giving reason for many to label him one of the finest-ever All Blacks.

Veteran commentator Winston McCarthy wrote: ‘‘For me there will never by anyone as great as Scott.''

Celebrated South African No 8 Hennie Muller described him as ‘‘altogether, the greatest footballer I've ever played against in any position''.

Until Scott's arrival, the mantle of the world's greatest ever fullback belonged to compatriot George Nepia.

Yet, good as Nepia was, Scott's all-round ability and vision forced a re-evaluation.

Nepia himself was emphatic that he never saw a player to touch Scott, who brought a new dimension to the custodian role.

He wasn't just the last line of defence, but also a source of attack.

His later instructional book ‘‘Bob Scott on Rugby'' carried the

tagline: ‘‘in which is expressed the conviction that attack is the art of rugby football''.

The New Zealand Rugby Union today paid tribute to Scott who

passed away early this morning at his home in Whangamata on the Coromandel.

"It is with great sadness we announce the passing of Bob Scott who was the oldest living All Black," said NZRU chairman Mike Eagle.

"Bob was a much admired player, regarded by many as the complete fullback who played the game with passion and courage.

"Many will remember Bob as one of the greatest players to pull on the No15 jersey and he was certainly a hugely popular member of the teams he played for. "I am sure in coming days he will be fondly remembered across New Zealand and in particular at the Ponsonby Rugby Club from where he was first selected for Auckland and the All Blacks and the Petone Rugby Club where he was heavily involved after finishing playing for the club in 1956.

"We extend our condolences to his family at this sad time."

Born in Wellington on Waitangi day in 1921, Robert Wiliam Henry Scott grew up in Auckland as one of six children during the Depression years and suffered extreme poverty.

But he was always gifted at sport and by the time World War 2 began, he was regarded as a brilliant rugby league, rugby and soccer player, all of which he played competitively to a high level.

A natural sportsman, he also represented Auckland at softball and in later years became a fine golfer and lawn bowler.

He served with the Army Service Corps in the Middle East and Italy during the war, describing driving trucks of ammunition to the front lines as the most lonely experience of his life.

Scott was chosen in Charlie Saxton's famous Kiwis Army side of 1945-46, with he and prop Johnny Simpson having to seek special dispensation because they had earlier played rugby league.

All Blacks selection followed and, in Australia in 1947, his goal kicking was quite brilliant. He totalled 72 points in six matches, including 15 in the second test.

Two years later in South Africa, he played marvellously but suffered kicking woes and was unable to land crucial goals which would have on occasion turned defeat into victory.

He blamed himself for the 0-4 series defeat, yet his captain Fred Allen and teammates laughed at the suggestion, saying it was Scott's ability which kept the All Blacks in with a chance.

Scott and his wife Irene were still struggling to establish their lives in 1950 - they never owned a car until 1957 - and he retired to concentrate on business.

But after pleading from the national selectors, he made a comeback for the 1953-54 tour of Britain and France.

It was one long triumph for Scott, who was feted wherever he went and turned in a series of breathtaking displays, the peak being the Barbarians match at Cardiff, won 19-5 by the All Blacks.

Scott's entries into the line and his linking with his forwards that day foreshadowed by three decades the development of fullback play.

He retired again, but when he was 35 he was once more asked to return to international rugby, to take on the 1956 Springboks.

‘‘I felt fit enough. My rugby would have been fine,'' he said.

‘‘But I was worried the pressure of the situation might have affected my kicking. Eventually I turned down the invitation, but I regarded it as the biggest compliment of my rugby career.''

Even before television arrived to lift sportsmen to superstardom, Scott was a celebrity.

In 1954 when he announced he was transferring from Auckland to Petone to run a menswear shop, the Petone Recreation ground was booked out for the season in just a few hours.

Scott had another string to his bow.

He could place-kick goals bare footed from halfway, a thought which would make today's top kickers cringe.

In all, he scored 840 points in first-class rugby, a record at the time.

During his nine-year international career, Scott played 52 matches for New Zealand, including 17 tests.

Scott retired to Whangamata and kept a close eye on rugby, often attending test matches and casting a benevolent eye over today's All Blacks.