Unbeaten All Black coach a knight - with one big regret

By Wynne Gray

Fred Allen has been regaling wellwishers with his thoughts and recollections. Photo / Greg Bowker
Fred Allen has been regaling wellwishers with his thoughts and recollections. Photo / Greg Bowker

Rugby's latest knight, Sir Fred Allen, thinks the next World Cup might be the All Blacks' final shot at repeating their triumph from 1987.

He gives them a strong show, especially if captain Richie McCaw is leading the charge, a flanker he rates as "an absolute champion" and equal with any who have donned the national rugby uniform.

Sir Fred, the only unbeaten coach in All Black history, has been regaling weekend wellwishers with his thoughts and recollections from his illustrious playing and coaching career, with the only regret that his wife of 52 years, Norma, was not with him to celebrate the honour.

"I miss her, it's been about nine months. She would have taken it all in her stride and it would have been lovely to have seen her as a Dame."

The 90-year-old was in fine form as he spoke about his war service, friends, playing life, business and coaching feats which earned him the "Needle" nickname.

"I've got a feeling it was little Wolfie [former All Black Neil Wolfe] who gave it to me," he said.

"Auckland was training one Sunday after we played Taranaki and they were watching us from the stands and I was giving them a bit of a hard time. The name didn't worry me, it gave me a bit of ammunition when I wanted to make players believe in themselves."

Sir Fred believes the All Blacks can win the World Cup next year "but if we can't win it here we'll never win it. If McCaw stays healthy it's on. We have a lot of talent but it may be a little early yet for some of them.

"The Boks have loads of experience. This bloke [Morne] Steyn has a deadly boot like Foxy [Grant Fox] ...

"France and Australia are the others who will be dangerous.

"I tell you that Robbie Deans has got all those young guys coming through."

Sir Fred liked the look of Rene Ranger, who is in the All Blacks squad as cover for several injured players.

Another favourite was utility Cory Jane. It was a pity, he said, that five-eighth Mike Delany was injured.

Sir Fred is in no doubt the best midfield backs he has seen were Bert Cooke and Johnny Smith.

"They were crackerjacks. Johnny had six ways of beating a man, he was able to mesmerise the opposition, whereas now if you have one or two you are lucky."

Sir Fred has only two regrets. He lamented his wife could not share his honour and was saddened that because of his principles, he could not coach the All Blacks to South Africa in 1970.

- NZ Herald

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