Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

100 Greatest All Blacks - 1st XV: No 11 Zinzan Brooke

Spinning the ball on one finger, left foot dropped goals, throwing at the crossbar-the rivalry went on and on with Zinzan Brooke.

At primary school, he changed his Christian name from Murray and could have altered his middle name to Challenge as well. If there was a card school, shellfish to be collected or beers to be drunk, Brooke's emotions were set to the contest.

A round of golf was never simple with Brooke, there was a secondary shootout, a chipping duel or a driving target sandwiched between the usual playing methods.

He was an icon in Auckland but was not treasured so quickly by the All Blacks. He made his test debut in 1987 at the World Cup but as a No 8 and had to settle as backup to Wayne Shelford or Michael Jones when either was injured.

When his chance came, injury and offshore contracts pricked Brooke's progress although he was first-choice at the ill-fated '91 World Cup.

Brooke was a supreme athlete who had played 35 tests when he set off on that expedition with the All Blacks looking to repeat their success of four years previously.
However the strains of political interference amongst the coaching group and a number of players past their prime accompanied the semifinal defeat against the Wallabies in Dublin.

Brooke was not on new coach Laurie Mains' favoured list when he came to the job in 1992. He was not convinced about the looseforward's work ethic in the international cauldron.

Only the persuasive intervention of Sean Fitzpatrick who was promoted to replace the injured Mike Brewer as All Black captain, convinced Mains to include Brooke for the tour to Australia and South Africa.

The coach did not thaw until Brooke showed enough form, fitness and purpose to make the second test lineup. Mains and Brooke were on the same wavelength at last and the No 8 rewarded that faith with controlled aggression and invention in the historic one-off victory when the tour carried on for the historic resumption of test rugby against the Springboks.

Brooke was so vital for the All Blacks that when he damaged his Achilles tendon before the '95 World Cup, Mains organised all sorts of specialist treatment to get the loose forward to the tournament.

That decision was vindicated as Brooke surged through the playoffs including an outrageous dropped goal against England in the semifinal before all the dramas of the extra-time food poisoning conclusion.

When John Hart was promoted to coach in '96, Brooke was one of the pillars of the team in two seasons of glory as they marched to the first series win in South Africa. During the series decider in Pretoria, Brooke once again smacked over an extraordinary dropped goal.

He dropped another against Wales in his penultimate test at Wembley in '97 before signing off in the draw with England at Twickenham. Brooke's mix of flamboyance and aggression was an unremitting rugby drawcard while he has also made the headlines away from the field.

Brooke has survived a heart scare, continued to play and coach in the UK where he had a beer named after him, had brain surgery after fracturing his skull in Spain and been declared bankrupt a year after he featured on a This is Your Life programme during the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.

Statistics
Date of birth: 14 February 1965
Position: Number eight
Matches: 100
Tests: 58
Test debut: 1 June 1987 v Argentina, Wellington
Last test: 6 December 1997 v England, London
Province: Auckland
Franchise: Blues
Test tries: 17
Test points: 89

- NZ Herald

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