Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Hard-man Skinner dies at 86

Boxer, grocer and farmer Kevin Skinner, around whom fact and legend swirled during his All Black heyday, has died in Auckland aged 86.

The prop played 20 tests and 63 games for the All Blacks in a career which began on the awkward tour of South Africa in 1949 and ended after the acrimonious series win against the Boks in New Zealand in 1956.

Those tests still provoke strong emotions for those who watched the ferocious combat and dine out on tales about how Skinner, the national heavyweight boxing champion, was recalled to test duty to sort out Jaap Bekker and Chris Koch, who were the Springbok villains.

Skinner answered a plea to return because the All Black props in the first two tests were injured. He explained to his teammates that most of the trouble started in the lineouts and he was not going to allow it.

After warning Koch once about barging through the line, Skinner clobbered him and the Springbok desisted. At halftime Skinner swapped to loosehead prop and when Bekker threatened to rearrange his form, Skinner struck.

"It was a real beaut to the side of the head."

There were only two punches but that grew so much in Auckland folklore soon after the test that Skinner wrote a letter to the Auckland Star asking for the hyperbole to stop.

Skinner was a teenage lock but switched to prop at the start of his provincial rugby career in Otago, was the national heavyweight boxing champion in 1947 and ended his rugby life in Counties.

He was part of an All Black powerful front row on his debut tour and was a key man on the 1953-54 UK tour.

Former Otago team mate Bert Haig remembered Skinner yesterday as a humble person, who just loved the game.

"He was very modest and never went on about his abilities.

"Everyone went on about his game against the Springboks and how he sorted out their props, going on to the other side, but he never went on about that," Haig said.

"He was always very fair and to me he epitomises what a top sportsman should be like. He was from a family of top sportsman."

Haig said Skinner was a tough player who never backed down to the opposition,

A grocer in Dunedin, he moved to Counties in 1955 and then shifted to Auckland after he retired from rugby in the late 1950s.

- additional reporting Otago Daily Times

- NZ Herald

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