Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

100 Greatest All Blacks: Alex Wyllie

Grizz Wyllie had his back to me. He was talking to a group at a function in Johannesburg when radio journalist John McBeth and I walked in. We had toured with Wyllie when he was All Black coach but had not seen him for a few years.

I suggested it was a good time to test his recollection and physique with the sort of greeting Wyllie used to deliver to us, a slap in the back that felt like a flounder wrapped in a lead jacket. It was his form of endearment.

Luckily Wyllie got the gag and we embraced a beer and stories of yesteryear.

Another of Wyllie's friendly moves was to lift you one-handed, by the hip, off the floor.

He had done that to me on a tour to France in 1990 and both of us were interviewed by the NZRU as the politicking heated up in the election of coaches for the World Cup season.

Wyllie survived that furore but had John Hart foisted on him as a co-coach for that ill-fated tournament. The pair were a fine addition to Brian Lochore's coaching panel for the 1987 World Cup win but time sullied that bond.

During his days as an abrasive loose forward, Wyllie carried a reputation as a gruff man, even a disruptive character underlined by his involvement with Tane Norton, Sid Going, Alan Sutherland and the "Mafia" hats on tour in 1973.

He was a rugged competitor who played more than 200 games for Canterbury and then went on to coach the side before his elevation to the All Black role. When that ceased after a term in which he directed them to a 50 game unbeaten streak, Wyllie coached in England, Ireland, South Africa and Argentina.

Date of birth: 30 August 1944
Position: Number Eight
Test debut: 8 August 1970 v South Africa at Cape Town
Final test: 15 September 1973 v England at Auckland
Matches: 40
Tests: 11
Province: Canterbury
Test tries: 2
Test points: 8

- NZ Herald

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