Legends of the club

Kate Preece talks to All Blacks of the past about what makes their club special.

Tane Norton

Out where the roads are bumpy and the average speed is 30kmh, the Linwood Rugby Club has its prized clubrooms and field.

"It used to be a bottle dump," club president and All Black Tane Norton says, admiring the field. Red bulls are painted on the sideline, ready for the club's grudge match against the Christchurch Football Club for the coveted "crying towel". Last year's game was won by Linwood in the game's final minutes, and Tane enjoyed ribbing Richie McCaw, who used to play for Christchurch, about the victory.

A bull himself and president for more than 25 years, Tane describes the 125-year-old Linwood club as family-oriented and he should know. Tane honed his skills as a hooker in Linwood, before making the Canterbury team in 1969. Tane's four sons were among those spending Saturdays here, hunkering down with a packet of chips as the players streamed in for an after-match drink. Later, the boys were among those fresh off the field.

It wasn't rugby that lured 25-year-old Tane and his growing family from Temuka, but his job at the Bank of New Zealand. Transferred to Christchurch, Tane heard good things about the Linwood Rugby Club, but never thought he would make it into the club, let alone the division-one team. When he did, the future All Black captain spent four weeks on the sideline, not playing a game until the Linwood captain and hooker, Andy Holland, retired.

Tane attributes much of his rugby success to luck. He says he only landed his Canterbury spot because New Brighton hooker Gary Bacon moved to the North Island. "The little man has to sit on your shoulder now and again," Tane says with a grin.

After three matches for Canterbury, Tane was selected as an All Black in 1971, following a game against the British Lions. Played at what was then Lancaster Park, the game was "disruptive", says Tane, who was sure he had missed his chance to wear the black jersey. But he was wrong.

"I still wake up and can't believe I've been an All Black."

The Linwood club's vice-president, Fergie McCormick, also played for New Zealand, although the two rugby legends never shared an All Black field.

"In 1971, the day I got in, he got out. He still half-pie blames me," Tane says. Fergie, a great supporter of Tane and the club, now coaches the women's rugby team.

Brothers Ben and Owen Franks are the most recent rugby stars to come from the Linwood club and their photos grace the walls of the clubroom, as do paintings of Fergie and Tane, and a 1905 padded All Blacks jersey owned by Duncan McGregor, aka The Flying Scotsman. As a multi-sport club, however, it's not all about rugby, with the girls' hockey team on show, too.

Tane captained the All Blacks in 1977 and has served as president of the New Zealand Rugby Union and the Canterbury Rugby Union. In 2006, he was made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to rugby. He played the sport until he was 36, after which he grew tomatoes and had a paper round, which he loved, even though the 4am starts meant he fell asleep at parties. At least his throwing arm was put to good use - "I could knock milk bottles off fences and scare the local cat".

Today, you're most likely to find Tane at the Bealey's Speight's Ale House, which he owns with two of his sons and a business partner, or down at his favourite field, cheering on the bulls.


Reuben Thorne

For the rugby players known as the polar bears, it's just a short jog from their navy-blue changing rooms to their commanding playing field. "It's one of the coldest grounds in the world out there," Reuben Thorne says, referring to Hagley Park. "Well, we think it is." Reuben joined the High School Old Boys' Rugby Football Club in 1994 and has fond memories of tackling that "iceberg".

"Last year, when we [the division-one team] played in the final, we had an awesome final at Rugby Park. Guys were dressed up in white, as our jerseys are white, and it was great. All the young teams came and supported us." There was even someone in a bear suit, cheering them on to victory.

The HSOB clubrooms in Ayr St were where Reuben and his team-mates went post-match every Saturday, joining supporters and the club's other teams in the Te Kura Lounge. One wall was dedicated to the All Blacks the club had produced, with Reuben among the famous 28 and Colin Slade the most recent addition. At the moment, however, the memorabilia is stashed away and the bar area is filled with equipment serving a German IT business that has leased the space. The changing rooms are the only part still used by HSOB players until a new purpose-built facility is completed in North Hagley Park. In the meantime, after-match functions are taking place at Christchurch Boys' High School.

As a HSOB player, under coach Steve Hansen, Reuben was picked to join the Canterbury Crusaders squad in 1997 and became an All Black two years later. He captained the national team in 2002 and 2003, but the humble father-of-three doesn't boast about it.
"It's obviously a great honour and ... it's something at the time I tried to do it as well as I could. It can be a little bit daunting, though, because there's so much public expectation about what people want from their All Black captain."

Today, Reuben's leadership role is as a coach. He holds an advisory coaching role with Japanese team Honda, is a positional coach for the Crusaders, and he joins fellow rugby legends Aaron and Nathan Mauger to coach the HSOB division-one team.

"I always wanted to give something back at club level, as my club helped me out a lot when I was young," says the softly spoken sportsman, who will still run on with the team if they're short.

Once every two years, the HSOB club takes a squad to Argentina to compete for the Patagonia Cup. The tour squad is a mix of senior and young players, with one lucky lad from the Christchurch Boys' High School first XV invited, too.

For Reuben, the club provides a positive environment that nurtures budding rugby stars from their first game all the way to the top.


Shayne Philpott

Sandwiched between busy Memorial Ave and Avonhead Rd, an expanse of green is covered by rugby players and supporters every Saturday. With a view of the No 1 field, Shayne Philpott pulls up a stool in the Spriggs Bar, at the Burnside Rugby Club, the club he joined in 1985.

"We were like a big family. It was probably the best time of my rugby life. You're just playing with your mates."

Although he admits the team was "pretty crap" at first, by 1990 the squad was strong, and Jon Preston and Rob Penney were among the side that made the championship finals four years running. Shayne still rates the club's wins in 1992 and 1993 as his biggest career highlights: "Winning those two games ... there was nothing better," says Burnside's first All Black.

Of his selection for the national side, he says: "That was a pretty good buzz. I had a pretty good year that year. That was 1988 and I got picked for the New Zealand Sevens at the start of the year, then, later in the year, picked for the All Blacks."

In 1996, it was his club connection that sent Shayne to Japan, where he played for the Toyota team alongside two old Burnside team-mates, Greg Smith and Richie Flannery. The three all played on the Canterbury squad and it was Greg who called Shayne from Japan to say Toyota was looking for a first five-eighth. With rugby becoming professional in 1995, it was a lucrative move.

"You go over there struggling with a mortgage and come back and you're reasonably sweet," says Shayne, who ran on to fields in both Italy and England before retiring in 2000.

"I started when I was five and I stopped when I was 35. Probably the only reason I stopped was because I couldn't play any more. My knee was completely wrecked."

It was a game in Sydney, during a sevens tournament that ruined Shayne's knee. He had eight knee operations before a full joint replacement a couple of years ago. He has a plate in his arm thanks to rugby, too, and has decided to stay off the field after getting dental implants 18 months ago.

Today, Shayne is happy on the sidelines, helping coach Burnside's under-11 side - his son Kareem's team. The budding rugby stars are being taught the importance of straight running and mastering their passing skills. "There's no point getting too complicated with them. If they can't pass the ball, there's no point."

Do they know they're learning from an All Black legend? "I don't know if they notice," admits Shayne, who remembers the children racing to meet Crusader Tom Taylor when he revisited his club's grounds.

For the next generation of All Blacks, Shayne has this advice: "Believe in yourself. Be cocky; be confident. Look at what other people do. Train hard."
Add a pinch of speed and a dollop of skill and it's a recipe for success.


Richard Wilson

Walking into the Christchurch Football Club, the pride is almost tangible. The entranceway is lined with memorabilia. A tall museum-like display holds trophies, and an honours board proudly details the club's All Blacks. Richard Wilson's name shines among the gold lettering, and the man himself stops to admire a memorial for another club legend, All Black Jock Hobbs.

Although Richard has been involved with the club for 30 years, the clubrooms at Christchurch Park were not where he spent his Saturdays. The club used to be located on Bangor St near Fendalton Park, the team's old home ground. Once the bar licence ran out at 6pm, after-match functions continued at the old Star and Garter Hotel.  

Richard speaks proudly of the four championships the Christchurch club won during the 1970s. "Those things you don't forget - the championships and the parties afterwards." Those winning teams reunite every 10 years, and once a year, Richard attends the "old-timers' night", when club members come together for a drink while watching the division-one team take the field.

"It's my rugby club. Christchurch has always been my club," says Richard, whose father, George, was also a member. Richard's son Michael wore the club's red-and- black stripes for a while, too, although his stepson has jumped ship to New Brighton.

With strong sports ability, Richard could easily have pursued a cricket career, but as a St Andrew's College pupil, he decided rugby was more fun. At the age of 20, Richard knew he had made the right choice, when he and John Black were selected for the New Zealand Juniors team. The pair played for the Canterbury B team at the time, which made the promotion even more notable. Richard still has the letter written by selector Eric Watson and his white jersey hangs in the Christchurch clubroom.

Support from his home club continued throughout Richard's All Black career. The Christchurch club's coach and manager followed him around the world for the grand slam tour of 1978, when the All Blacks bet England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Richard's standout memory, however, remains the match when he helped the New Zealand Juniors beat the All Blacks in 1973.

When Richard returns to the Christchurch club, where a couple of his international jerseys and an embroidered silver fern from his blazer grace the walls, he still receives a warm welcome.
"I always know people here. It's like home, really."