To the strains of Frank Sinatra's My Way, All Blacks coaching great Sir Fred Allen was farewelled in appropriate style yesterday afternoon.
At Eden Park, his "second home" according to his nephew Alex Carpenter, about 300 mourners paid their respects to Sir Fred, who died in Auckland at the age of 92 on Saturday.
Former All Blacks Sir Wilson Whineray, Sir Brian Lochore and Sir Colin Meads spoke during the service, inside the stadium's North Stand, of Sir Fred's qualities as the man who coached the All Blacks 37 times for 37 wins, including 14 tests, from 1966-68.
"In the end, we just wanted to play for him because we believed in what he was telling us," said Sir Brian, who was named by Sir Fred as All Black captain during his tenure. "We believed in him as a coach."
Sir Fred, who served with distinction as an army lieutenant in the Solomon Islands and Middle East during World War II and was wounded twice in action, was known as a hard taskmaster who also had a softer side.
The tributes painted a picture of a man who believed in discipline and hard work but also someone who danced to his own tune. That's perhaps why Sinatra's song, which followed a rousing haka by King's College students, struck such a chord.
Sir Fred, who captained the All Blacks in all of his 21 games in the black jersey, had humble beginnings in Oamaru, the birthplace of another standout All Black, today's skipper, Richie McCaw.
Sir Colin, who sat alongside Sir Fred during October's tense World Cup final at Eden Park, spoke of a man capable of giving fierce "barrages" to his senior players, but also someone who was generous.
He told a story about feeling like a "fish out of water" after being ordered by Sir Fred to accompany him to a women's fashion parade in Paris. Sir Fred, whose background in the sewing industry and straight-to-the-point nature earned him the nickname "The Needle", later bought Meads a dress to give to his wife, Verna.
"He must go down as the best coach that world rugby ever had," Sir Colin said.
Among the other mourners were New Zealand rugby boss Steve Tew and former All Blacks Bryan Williams, Waka Nathan, Ian Kirkpatrick and Wayne Shelford.
Also there were Internal Affairs Minister Chris Tremain, son of the late All Black great Kel Tremain, and Labour MP Phil Twyford.
Sir Brian said the funeral was highly appropriate. "It was respectful ... Everyone was there for a reason. They knew what he had done for New Zealand as a soldier, as a captain of the All Blacks, as a coach of Auckland and the All Blacks, and he was just a generally good man."
On the coffin lay a wreath of red roses, a silver fern and an original All Blacks cap.By Patrick McKendry Email Patrick