Mountain of memories with ABs lock 'Tiny' Hill

00:08, Mar 15 2014
Tiny Hill
FINE FORM: Former All Black Tiny Hill, 86, remains a keen follower of rugby at all levels.

Yarn to Tiny Hill and you hope the New Zealand Rugby Union never forgets the men who helped build the All Blacks into the corporate brand they are today.

In Stanley Frank Hill's playing days – he reckons the nickname Tiny was given when he joined the NZ Army – a brand was something used in the cattle yards or at the local farrier.

Rugby has changed immensely since Hill, 86, represented the All Blacks between 1955 and 1959.

Yet he remains an avid supporter of the sport – he watches the big-time stuff and also follows Mid-Canterbury and the local club teams from Burnham and Rolleston.

He worries about the future of New Zealand's provincial and club competitions and hopes the NZRU continues to acknowledge their importance to the game's survival here.

When Press arrives to chat with Hill at his Rolleston home a friend has just delivered a bag of flounder and he's expecting some other folks for lunch.

Sitting his living room, Tiny proves a generous host. Over a pot of tea and crackers, he chats about a variety of subjects.

Over a couple of hours he discusses why he declined a commission in the army, ("I said, 'You're bloody joking'") serving with J Force in Japan after WWII, and later in Vietnam.

He says tending the beehives and moving sheep around his small lifestyle block allows him to reflect on his time coaching in the United States and his memories of beating the Boks and Lions in 1956 and 1959.

He possesses a keen sense of humour and the big body that contributed to his being such a potent lock or loose forward against such teams as the Springboks and British and Irish Lions, and still looks in good nick.

One of the most entertaining tales provides the backstory about why he was dropped after the All Blacks beat the South Africans 10-6 in the opening test in Dunedin in 56.

Canterbury met the Boks in Christchurch soon after that win and during the encounter Hill was involved in an altercation with opposition prop Chris Koch.

Jumping at No 2 in the lineout, Hill landed awkwardly and somehow ended up staring at a startled Koch.

The Springbok tough nut may have misread the situation. Thinking Hill was about to kickoff a scrap, he punched him on the jaw.

Hill counted himself lucky not to receive a broken jaw but his face was still a mess and he was forced to eat through a straw for days afterwards.

If Koch thought he had sorted that situation, he was wrong.

"At the next lineout I said to Bob Duff to move up to No 2 in the lineout and he said, 'What are you on about?'" Hill recalled. "I said, just do it, and when the ball went in I turned to Chris Koch and, whack, whack, I let him have a few.

"The South Africans immediately all stood around and started yelling. But not Koch. He was on the ground."

Later Hill learned this was probably the reason for being dropped from the second test: A national selector had been scrutinising his every move through his binoculars and was unimpressed by what happened.

He was soon back, however. The All Blacks lost the second test and Hill played the final two tests as the New Zealanders sealed the series 3-1.

Hill played 11 tests and eight games for his country. He captained them twice, against Australian state sides. The only points he scored were for the conversion he kicked in the 51-3 win over South Australia in Adelaide.

"I had to wait until we scored under the posts and than I said 'I'll take this'. They reckon the dirt I kicked off the ground went further than the ball."

His most treasured rugby memory was when Canterbury took the Ranfurly Shield off Wellington in 1953. Later, when the army transferred him to the North Island, he played for Counties until 1962.

Photographs of various teams he played in adorn his living room walls but he gave away most of his rugby gear to charity or clubs.

Hill coached at rugby clinics in California and Texas in the late 1970s, was an All Blacks selector and coached Canterbury. He was also made a member of the Order of the British Empire.

However one of the best moments of his life had nothing to do with rugby. It was when he met future wife, Marge.

Until the moment he met her, girls were a distant second to playing sport, fishing and being with his mates.

"A friend introduced to me to Marge. When I first saw her walking into the room, well I certainly changed my views."

Marge died around 18 months ago and she has left a massive void.

"We were married for 62 years and I miss her like hell. But this is life, I suppose, and you can't change it."

Daughter Gay and son John live nearby and are regular visitors and son Stan, who like his younger brother represented the Tall Blacks basketball team, has a pub in Coromandel.


The Press