After last weekend's announcement of Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II's 2011 June Queen's Birthday honours list one might be tempted to ask 'what was so significant about the quality of men who made up the 1963-64 All Blacks?'
Her Majesty probably saw that team in action on their Great Britain, Ireland, France and Canada trip. After all they played 36 matches and were therefore under her royal nose for five long months.
Either Her Majesty loved that team or her advisors in New Zealand still do to this day because with the announcement of her honours list last weekend there are now no fewer than four knights she has similarly recognised from that one team. And one other from the 1967 tour to UK.
In alphabetical order they are: Sir Fred Allen, Sir Brian Lochore, Sir Colin Meads, Sir Wilson Whineray and as from just days ago, Sir John Graham.
The list clearly makes that team the most honoured New Zealand sports team of all time. And perhaps we could muse, that but for early deaths and given the quality of their contributions to New Zealand life maybe there might also have been a Sir Kelvin Tremain and a Sir Ken Gray too.
One book was written about that famous tour (oh, by the way it was written by the New Zealand Herald's Sir Terry McLean) in which 'Sir T.P' offers warm praise for all of the above, in some cases 30 years and more before Her Majesty caught onto their greatness.
On the first page of his book 'Willie Away' - which refers to the code name of the 1963-64 team's famous lineout call ('Willie' being Wilson Whineray) McLean waxed rhapsodic right from the start.
'It is possible,' he wrote, 'in William Shakespeare's words that 'not marble, nor the gilded monuments of princes' shall outlive, in the history of New Zealand's rugby football, the achievements of this team... On good days and bad they kept on winning... and it was all truly glorious.'
The book goes on through 302 pages of Sir Terry's most glowing terms and tributes. He loved this team. They played 36 matches in all for 34 wins, one loss and one drawn game.
Your correspondent toured with McLean through the mid-seventies for a decade or so until his retirement, and whenever he was asked if Graham Mourie's All Black teams to Europe in 1978, '79 '80 or '81 - all unbeaten in Test matches - were greater than Whineray's men of 1963-64 - McLean never budged. He loved the 1964-63 team. (Mind you he also greatly admired the 1967 team to UK - his book on that one was called 'All Black Magic' and it had [Sir] Brian Lochore in it, plus [Sir] Colin Meads.)
So now there are five knights from the 1960s era and no rugby knights from any other New Zealand rugby team since.
New Zealand's seven All Black Knights
Sir Henry Braddon: Before 2011 only two other 'All Blacks' had been knighted. One was Sir Henry Braddon though he was not technically an 'All Black' at all. That nickname was not tagged to New Zealand rugby players until it was done so by British rugby writers in 1905. And anyway Braddon was knighted in Australia!
Braddon was born in India 1863 and educated in England after being raised in Australia as the son of the premier of Tasmania. As a young adult he emigrated to Invercargill from where he played seven games for New Zealand in 1884 on the first tour to abroad by a New Zealand representative team.
Braddon stayed in Australia at the end of the tour and had a distinguished career in New South Wales rugby, business and state politics. He was knighted in the King George V honour's lists in 1920.
Sir Harcourt Caughey: In the list of rugby knights the first true 'All Black' to be honoured thus was Sir Harcourt 'Pat' Caughey in 1972. But even he was not recognised for his rugby contribution. Rather it was for his long and distinguished service to health administration. At the time he was chairman of the Auckland Hospital Board and the chairman of the Medical Research Council.
Sir Harcourt's rugby had been played through the thick of the Great Depression of the 1930s. He went on three tours from 1932-6; he went twice to Australia and once to UK and played 39 games and 9 tests. His last game was at Eden Park against South Africa in 1937.
He was a tall and elegant centre three-quarter. His name lives on in Auckland in the name of the renowned family drapery firm and department store, Smith and Caughey's, which still operates in Queen Street.
A quote from Sir Terry McLean; "Caughey may well have the handsomest man who ever played international rugby. He was invariably faultlessly dressed and groomed. But Pat Caughey never put on airs. Late in his life, walking to his Auckland office after lunch at his club, he stopped when a car full of young lads drew up at the kerb. 'Hey man,' the youngsters yelled, 'why you dressed like that?'
'Because,' said Sir Harcourt, broadly smiling, 'I knew I was going to meet you.' The yells of joy and laughter as the kids drove off was almost as great as a tribute as the knighthood was."
Sir Wilson Whineray: After a highly prominent career as a rugby player and in business Sir Wilson was knighted in 1998. He had been in public life for over 40 years. His first All Black appearance had been in 1957 and he was made captain the following year only six weeks after his 23rd birthday. He celebrated by scoring two tries in a 25-3 Test win over Australia. His career in the All Blacks spanned nine seasons and from 1958 he was always the captain, known to his teammates as 'Skip.'
After his rugby days he later became managing director and then chairman of Carter Holt Harvey and was chairman of the Hillary Commission for sport funding for five years.
When he was knighted Sir Wilson said, 'As I have got older I look back on the nine years I had as an All Black with huge feelings of privilege knowing that I played with some of best players in the world. I realise now what great years they were.'
Sir Brian Lochore: It is doubtful if anyone has given longer active service to the All Blacks than Sir Brian. His first All Black trial was in Palmerston North in 1961 when he was 20 years old; he was first chosen as a test reserve when the first England team toured New Zealand in 1963. Later that year he toured Britain with, yes, the 1963-64 All Blacks.
His career carried on through 68 matches and 24 Tests. He captained the team from 1966 till 1970, a total of 18 times in test matches. He even played one more test match after he had retired, called back to duty in 1971 after injuries had struck that season's test team.
Lochore became an All Black selector in 1983 and by 1985 he was appointed coach. He coached New Zealand to its inaugural (and so far only) Rugby World Cup win in 1987.
He then retired from coaching but became manager for a season in 1992 followed by joining with Colin Meads to be co-managers for the All Blacks Rugby World Cup campaign in 1995.
In 2004 when aged 64 he was invited by Graham Henry to become an All Black selector again. He carried this through to his third different Rugby World Cup campaign in 2007, adding being an advisor to young All Black players about understanding fully the All Black history and tradition. When he called it quits once more late in 2007, he had been vying for, playing in, captaining, coaching, selecting and mentoring the All Black cause for 46 years. In 1995 he had also played a huge part in re-signing All Blacks who had been on the verge of switching to the new professional rugby circus, The World Rugby Corporation.
Along the way Lochore had been knighted in 1999 for services to sport. That included his time as chairman of the New Zealand Sports Foundation and chairman of the sport funding agency, the Hillary Commission.
Sir Colin Meads 2009: The great All Black lock forward, in the team for 15 seasons 1957-71 and veteran of 133 games for his country and 55 Test matches, had been first honoured by Her Majesty in 1971. Then it was the MBE which he received (Member of the British Empire). In 2000 he became a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (DCNZM) which, under the Labour government of the time, which had taken knighthoods out of the honours' lists, was the highest honour any New Zealander could achieve.
In 2009 the newly elected National government of John Key, changed the rules. They allowed knighthoods to return and back-dated an offer to DCNZM members. They could accept a knighthood should they choose to. Meads was asked constantly in the media if he would accept the knighthood. He finally did, being knighted in Wellington in August 2009.
On the day of the investiture he told the media that he did not want to be called 'Sir.' 'I'm still Colin Meads and I will be till the day I die. I'll be just Colin thank you, no different than before.' he said.
One New Zealand newspaper, when reporting the knighthood, pointed out he 'was already an Earl.' Earl is Sir Colin's seldom-mentioned middle name.
Sir Fred Allen: Following a career with the famous 'Kiwi' Army rugby team, which toured after World War II Fred Allen was an All Black from 1946-49. He played in six tests and 21 games. He was an outstanding captain of the team throughout that time, including for the long tour to South Africa in 1949.
Fred gained most fame as a highly disciplined and perceptive coach of the All Blacks from 1966 till 1968. In his time the All Blacks had a 100% win record over 14 test matches.
He became New Zealand's oldest living All Black following the death of Wellington's Eric Tindill in 2010. A knighthood followed for Fred later in 2010 in the Queen's birthday honour's list.
It was widely acclaimed in rugby circles and his star 'boys' from the 1963-64 team, Sir Wilson Whineray, Sir Colin Meads and Sir Brian Lochore were present to congratulate him at his 90th birthday party in Auckland.
Sir John Graham: And now the 7th and latest New Zealand rugby representative to be knighted. His was for services to education and sport. Sir John insisted that the wording of his honour be published that way as 'education should come before everything.'
Amazingly Sir John is not the first knight from his family. His brother Jim became Sir James Graham in 1990. He had been prominent in farming including a long tenure as chairman of the NZ Dairy Board.
Sir Jim had been a prominent rugby player too, playing for Waikato, as well as for the North Island and in All Black trials. A third brother Bob Graham was an excellent player as well, an Auckland captain and an All Black trialist. He was also captain of the North Island once in 1964 when his brother John was captain of the South Island.
For the family bragging rights Bob's team won 12-9.
Sir John was a flanker and number eight forward. He played for the All Blacks first in 1958 against Australia, then from 1960-64. He had 22 tests and 53 games. In his last year he was test captain in the series against Australia.
His working life as a school master saw him teach at several distinguished schools, including Christchurch Boys High School and Auckland Grammar School. He was also President of the NZRU as well the New Zealand cricket team manager from 1996-2000.
A book on the life of Sir John Graham, written by Auckland broadcaster Bill Francis, is due to be released shortly. If they were in the dark too about the upcoming honour the publishers may have to make a rush change to its wording.
He is now Sir 'D.J'!'
Note; Other prominent sporting names to make the honours list include netball coach Ruth Aitken (ONZM); former Black Caps captain Stephen Fleming (ONZM); Daniel Vettori who succeeded Fleming as captain (ONZM); Silver Ferns captain Casey Williams (ONZM) and Tall Blacks captain Pero Cameron(MNZM).
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