Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: BeeGee treasures memory of his role in France's debut NZ tour

Bryan Williams (front row, holding ball), a future All Black, was there when France toured New Zealand 52 years ago.
Bryan Williams (front row, holding ball), a future All Black, was there when France toured New Zealand 52 years ago.

When France first toured New Zealand, 52 years ago, future All Black Bryan Williams appeared in one of the curtain-raisers.

BeeGee was only 10 when he stepped out on the wing for Auckland North in a Roller Mills clash with Auckland West on his Eden Park debut.

"That day is one of my special memories," he recalled.

"My dad took me about nine o'clock in the morning because we were playing the early curtain raiser.

"That was back in the day when everyone used to camp outside the ground because we didn't have anything like Ticketek then. We went in through the back of the No 1 stand as it was in those days, got changed in a little room and played our game."

Williams' side was beaten but he has vivid recollections of the whole day and watching the end of the second match as he and his teammates sat on the grass in front of the grandstand.

Then the All Blacks arrived to inspect the field as Williams and his buddies hovered over their soft drinks and pies.

"I remember being near Wilson Whineray, Colin Meads and Don Clarke, the memories are still vivid. They were huge men for us little kids," he said.

"Don McKay scored with his first touch and Don Clarke dropped a goal with his left foot from about 45m, Pierre Albaladejo dropped two goals for France - they are enduring memories."

Nine years later Williams started his test career in South Africa and played alongside Meads once the lock recovered from his broken arm.

Williams also became good friends with Whineray in his later years.

A year before his 1961 debut on Eden Park, Williams watched his first game at the ground when Waka Nathan scored his famous Ranfurly Shield-saving try against Canterbury.

Those experiences claimed Williams who had played rugby league for the first five seasons of his sporting life.

The souvenir test programme for July 22, 1961 cost two shillings as Whineray's All Blacks kicked off at 2.30pm on the way to beating France 13-6.

After his sporting crossover, Williams played 38 tests and 65 other matches for the All Blacks, coached Samoa and was president of the NZRU during the last World Cup.

He carried that role into last year when the All Blacks played in Christchurch just as they are doing against France today at Addington. "I recall the weather was a bit raw and the forecast might be a bit similar for this game," he said.

"I remember talking to Aaron Smith the next morning and he said he could not feel his toes all game. You could hear the ice crack under you on the ground."

Williams will watch tonight from the warmth of his lounge, perhaps with son Gavin for company after his appearance last week for the Classic All Blacks in Fiji.

Then, like last Saturday, it will be time to tune into coverage of his other son Paul who is captaining Samoa in their quadrangular tournament in South Africa.

"We'd been up in the Barbarians rooms after the test and obviously enjoyed that and got home and the game was kicking off at midnight with Samoa against Scotland."

- NZ Herald

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