From the ’87 RWC to a Ballymore club bash: A unique rugby journey

We often look with envy at the superstar rugby players and wonder what life would be like to be idolised. The gifted ones who possess ability us mere mortals respect and envy. The fellow schoolboy who we admire for his natural ability and wonder – “how far will this guy go in his career?” You just know the players who will go further than the rest of us, usually only one in the team that shines with talent. I played with Neil Ruddell at school and we all knew he was the one who would go on to play for Northland and if memory serves me right played in an All Blacks trial and for NZ Juniors.But for every elite player there are fourteen other players who make it possible for the chosen one to achieve their dreams. We all think about being All Blacks or Wallabies but do not have the exceptional talent, hard work ethic or focus to reach the top. We look back and think if I had stayed at home that Friday night, ran that extra mile in training or developed an insatiable desire to go further, but other things in life become priorities. It would not be humanly possible for all fifteen to become superstars of the game, with our lives dedicated to varying careers and goals.My article on cricket memories recently triggered me to think the same about rugby union and what memories I have of this game that gives so much to many people. Whether you are the average player, the star, referee, coach, or medical person, rugby would have left a huge hole if it did not exist. Many of us work in average jobs to provide for our families, with the performance of our favourite team in the weekend to look forward to. I became an All Blacks fan when following the All Blacks on the 1970 tour of South Africa with an instant hero created in Bryan Williams. What a sidestep! (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)And I like players who beat opposing players in the in-goal area in the act of scoring a try. Our Northland legend, Sidney Milton Going also made this tour and then contributed towards North Auckland winning the Ranfurly Shield in 1971, with huge crowds at Okara Park witnessing this pinnacle in their history. My father and I travelled by bus to the match, with me being the youngest on board, way too young to be imbibing. As an aside, it was around this time that I won tickets to go and see The Sweet in concert in Auckland too! Rugby and music, two great loves.With our parents owning a grocery store, it contributed towards us putting on weight and qualifying for prop positions in our local rugby team. The weight was soon shed and I was selected for the prestigious ASB Rugby Tournament in Kaitaia where we were billeted. School rugby did not advance until being picked for the Whangarei Boys High First XV as a flanker before choosing halfback as others were outgrowing me.The All Blacks toured the UK in 1972/73 with the Barbarians match and late-night viewing being the highlights. Bill McLaren’s call on that match and Gareth Edwards’ try were the unforgettable moments. The highlights from this time on are too numerous to mention, but personal memories include the water polo Test in 1975 versus Scotland which produced amazing rugby from the All Blacks. Joe Morgan’s try and Sid Going’s goal-kicking stand out in 1976 against South Africa. Playing a club rugby match on Ballymore, Brisbane in the early 80s for me personally was memorable as I will always remember the considerable number of cars parked there as I drove into the ground! Rugby in Perth, Australia and then England followed on an adventure which included playing for the Esher Club in London. Frigid weather and cups of tea in large baths and a good bunch of guys featured. A trip up to Edinburgh to view the All Blacks draw with Scotland was a great occasion, except for the result. The friendly locals and morning pub arrival a fond memory.On arrival back in New Zealand I encouraged my brother and some mates to play for a startup rugby club, which did not have its own ground until much later, with fill-in players often getting the man of the match award! A ruptured Achilles tendon playing led to a job interview in a full-length plaster.John Kirwan. (Photo by Russell Cheyne/Getty Images)The 1987 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand and Australia was a momentous occasion with the All Blacks win and John Kirwan’s try the highlights. I moved to Auckland and tried out restricted weight rugby successfully with an appearance for a North Harbour team. It was at this time that my rugby came to an end due to work commitments at the age of twenty-seven, playing with my brother and joining overseas teams were obvious highlights.The All Blacks have gone on to produce magnificent results, including two more Rugby World Cups and the establishment of immortal players including Richie McCaw, Jonah Lomu and Dan Carter.Whether you are the superstar or the average Joe, rugby will bring you everlasting memories of camaraderie, match highlights that enlarge over the years and bitter-sweet moments that help create who we are today. We may not have utilised all our talents and devoted ourselves fully to the game, but we have created memories that even the professional player would envy.