That Guy

That Guy is a Herald on Sunday columnist

That Guy: Rugby Union must face the shame of its past

Clearly the New Zealand Rugby Union has much to apologise for before it can host next year's Rugby World Cup with a clear conscience. But I think we need to accept that this controversy occurred in the 1950s and 60s and they were different times.

We were a young nation, evolving and finding our place on the world stage. I also think it is important to note the present members of the Rugby Union weren't involved in the atrocious decisions that were made back then. But mistakes should be recognised.

I am, of course, talking about the disgusting decision to leave my great-uncle Bryce, uncle Kenny and second cousin Steve out of major All Black touring parties. These decisions shocked them then and they fail to make sense to them today.

The poor selections my family had to endure over those decades affected the family so greatly that Bryce's younger brother Colin switched to soccer, which was unheard of in the 50s, and just two years later he turned into a homosexual.

I was shocked to learn last week many Maori rugby players also suffered at the hands of the union, with apartheid selections being made merely to appease the South Africans. In my opinion, this is disgusting and should also be dealt with by the present-day Rugby Union.

However, there is a difference between the Maori issue and my family's plight. From what I can gather, the Maori players are only seeking an apology; my family also wants financial compensation.

It is a well-documented fact my family gave more to New Zealand rugby than anyone else. They helped shape the game we love, but their contributions have seldom been recognised.

Uncle Kenny played for West Coast from 1944 through to 1971, then briefly on the wing in 1978. He was probably the most innovative player this country has ever seen. He was the first to play an acoustic guitar in the changing room, the first to have a severe drinking problem and he was the first person to take a quick lineout. The quick lineout was something he tried to introduce because the pubs closed at 6pm in those days.

Former All Black manager and West Coast legend John Sturgeon has said in his long career he has never seen a player like him and is certain he never will again.

"You just know that win or lose you can be damn certain Bryce Hart would have something to do with it." The fact that his team never won a game adds a certain perspective to this comment.

Bryce also invented the hospital pass, and legend has it in one game in 1954 he perfectly executed 17 hospital passes before he took himself off at half time.

The term "slice" is derived from his name "Bryce". Throughout the 50s, if somebody kicked a ball off the side of his boot you might hear a spectator say: "Oh, no, he Bryced it." In 1959 a commentator changed it to "he sliced it".

Many people who lived close to Bryce considered him a shoe-in for All Black selection. Yet he didn't even get a trial. This is why Bryce is not only seeking an apology from the union but $145,000 in lost earnings from potential illegal sponsorship deals he could have secured in the amateur era. Bryce has always said it's never been about the money, but since the bottom has fallen out of his pub ashtray business he has been forced to revisit the issue.

Kenny's exploits have also been well-documented. He indirectly invented the skip pass - in one half alone he was involved as the "skippee" no fewer than 32 times - and he is also credited with inventing the defensive bomb.

Second cousin Steve also failed to live up to his own expectations but his gripe is not centred on poor selection policy.

Steve claims it was his idea to even have a Rugby World Cup. "I mentioned it to Fergie McCormick in the Cantabrian Tavern in 1978 ... but before I could do anything about it everybody else had jumped on the bandwagon."

As a man of principle, he will not attend any of the games here next year.

- Herald on Sunday

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