Wednesday 18 September 2019

Obituary: Brian Lochore

Rugby giant, who captained the All Blacks to victory in 17 consecutive Test matches

LEADER: Legendary All Blacks captain Brian Lochore
LEADER: Legendary All Blacks captain Brian Lochore

Brian Lochore, who has died aged 78, captained what many regard as the most powerful All Blacks team of all, winning 17 Test matches in a row between 1965 and 1969. Two decades later, in 1987, he coached New Zealand to victory in the first Rugby World Cup.

As captain for 46 matches, Lochore was fortunate to have in his team such legendary players as Colin Meads, Kel Tremain, Waka Nathan, Fergie McCormick, Chris Laidlaw and Sid Going. The 1967 squad has been named as the greatest rugby team ever, revolutionising the game by combining rugged play by the pack with swift inter-passing between forwards and backs.

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The tactics were introduced by Fred Allen, a coach who won all 14 of his Tests in charge. He found an eager supporter in his captain, a speedy No 8 with giant hands who relished a passing game.

"Rugged" is perhaps a euphemism for the barging, elbowing, sly kicking and punching off the ball for which the All Blacks were noted at that time, though the captain was not the main offender. That was Meads, a giant of a man who was chief enforcer throughout the 1960s.

Lochore, always known as B J, defended their tactics on the grounds much of the game was played illegally in those days, with referees turning a blind eye, and you had to get your blows in first if you were to win. It was not until cameras monitored play that illegal hits were punished.

He and Meads were farmers and it was joked their idea of training was to run up a hill with a sheep under each arm. In later life both were to champion the development of rugby in New Zealand's rural areas, believing men who had worked the land were the soul of Kiwi rugby.

Brian James Lochore was born on September 3, 1940, one of three sons and a daughter, on a farm at Masterton in the Wairarapa region on the North Island. He spent all his life in the area, educated at Opaki primary school and Wairarapa College and playing club rugby for Masterton and regional rugby for Wairarapa.

He was a talented all-round sportsman, one of the best junior tennis players in New Zealand and also played golf to a high level.

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On leaving Wairarapa College, he played for the Masterton club at the age of 19 and was soon chosen to appear for Wairarapa.

Two years later, he played as a flanker in All Blacks trials and was selected, much to his surprise, for the New Zealand squad to tour Ireland and Britain in 1963-64.

He was especially surprised to be chosen as a No 8, a position he had never played. He was to make the position his own for the rest of his career.

He won his first cap in the 14-0 win over England at Twickenham in January 1964. When long-serving captain Wilson Whineray retired in 1965, Allen surprisingly chose Lochore to succeed him despite his relative inexperience.

Lochore's ability on the field and calm and friendly personality dispelled any doubts about his credentials. He was undemonstrative, rarely criticised a player, and, according to a team-mate, "gave simple instructions that were easily understood, and impressed us with his dedication and strength of character, leading by example. You just played for him".

In 1970, the unbroken success of Lochore's All Blacks was shattered in South Africa, where the Springboks won three of four Tests. Lochore retired, sensing "the fire in my belly isn't there any more".

The All Blacks did not let him off so easily. The following year he was called on a Friday afternoon and asked if he would come back for one more game, against the 1971 British and Irish Lions, because of an injury crisis. "I was reluctant to play," he said, "because I was out of condition, but my conscience wouldn't allow me to turn down a cry for help from my country."

His wife was out, so he stuck a note on the fridge saying: "Off now to Wellington, playing in Test tomorrow." The Lions won his final match 13-3. He had played 48 games for the All Blacks, all but two as captain, including 25 Tests.

He went into coaching, reluctantly at first, for Masterton, then for Wairarapa-Bush, a lacklustre team which he drove from bottom of the Second Division to the First. He rated that achievement equal to winning the World Cup.

In 1983 he began a long stint as a selector and two years later was invited to be national coach to prepare for the inaugural World Cup in 1987. In his team talk before the final, Lochore said: "We know we are the world champions. We have been world champions for 100 years. But if we lose today all that history will go to waste. So you'd better go out and win." They did so, beating France 29-9.

He remained part of the New Zealand set-up for several more years as a selector.

A keen conservationist and horse-breeder, he chaired the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust from 2003-11 and also headed the Hillary Commission, the main funding body for sport in New Zealand.

Brian Lochore is survived by his wife Pam, to whom he was married for 54 years, and by their two daughters and a son. He died August 3, 2019​.

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