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Rugby: 60 seconds with Mike Clamp, Former All Black

Former All Black, Mike Clamp. Photo / Alan Gibson
Former All Black, Mike Clamp. Photo / Alan Gibson

Q. Greetings Mike. I excused myself from a treasure hunt at a mate's ninth birthday party to watch that 1984 test where you scored a try to help the All Blacks beat the Wallabies 25-24 in Sydney and secure the Bledisloe Cup 2-1. Please, run us through it?

That was my only All Black test try. Smithy [Wayne Smith] came the blindside, flicked it to me, all I had to do was catch it and run about 20m. It was my moment of glory... but there's all those years building to it. The opportunity came because JK [John Kirwan] was injured. 1984 was the highlight of my rugby career.

Q. Did playing with Ebony and Ivory - Bernie Fraser and Stu Wilson - in Wellington help?

That was good and bad. I had to sit on the wings, literally, for a while and ease in. In 1986 I went on the Cavaliers tour, missed the All Blacks end-of-year tour to France but came over and played anyway. [Serge] Blanco contacted me to play at his club, Biarritz Olympique. I thought, "Why not?" I didn't speak French so bought one of those Berlitz books at Auckland airport.

I was trying to learn but the blimmin' stuff was going in one ear and out the other. The boys tried to give me directions - pass left, go right, run straight, cut on an angle - it was a nightmare.

Q. When did the franc drop, so to speak?

It took a couple of years but it helped meeting my wife Sylvie early on, plus I had rugby and was immersing myself in the culture. I just picked it up by ear. Naturally the rugby boys taught me the filthy words first which I went about repeating, thinking they were something else. People would look aghast at social functions. Women would come up and ask how I was and I'd inquire, polite as anything, "How are your breasts?" They'd be like "Excusez-moi?" I'd be like, "Oh geez, the buggers got me again". There were hardly any English speakers around then, so I was an easy target.

Q. How did you end up in the surf industry?

Growing up in Petone, I always said I wanted to live at a beautiful beach and surf. Look what happened, I turned up here and it's in front of me every day. I could see the buzz these surfers were on and the lifestyle Quiksilver was trying to sell through Australia and the States. They gave me the opportunity to do some retail here [from 1992] and, as a rugby player, I had some contacts. I had trained as a teacher so I also set up a surf school on the main beach. Biarritz was just a quiet hub back in the 80s, it wasn't commercialised like now.

Q. Seems like a decent joint though?

Yeah, there's a lot of money, old money, in this area. One of my good mates Rafael is the cousin of the King of Spain. This little Maori boy is well connected. I just go, "Hey bro, we're related. I've got Maori royal blood and you're related to Spanish royalty... put it there, give me a hongi." Mind you, owning a quarter-acre in Porirua doesn't quite match owning half of Madrid.

Q. You recently sold some of your business interests. How are you filling your time?

My son's got the day off today [from the beachfront Biarritz Boardriders surf shop they own] so I help him out. I said I'd never play golf but I'm getting on a bit [Clamp is 51] so I'm into it now.

Q. Any eye-openers over the years at the shop?

Yeah, a few laughs. Plenty of women coming in half-naked, the odd character asking for a baguette.

Q. Tell us about the Kauri Club on Thursdays?

It's big, strong and has deep roots back home. Quite a few Kiwi guys married local girls. The French talk about us stealing their women; we say we've been trapped. We get together, bring out the guitars, sing a few songs, have a few ales and finish up in a fight - just like being at home really (laughs). Only kidding.

Q. As a former Maori rugby player of the year, how important are your Ngati Toa values on your mum's side?

I keep in contact with my family and iwi. I've got a bit of mana because of my past and playing in France so they sometimes ask for a few pointers on international matters. Mum is from a big family of about 15 so I have a huge whanau. I've taken my kids back to my marae, so they know where they came from. It can be quite an eye opener for them, especially when their aunties start hoeing into puha and pork bones.

Q. Yikes. Okay, finally, where's the best place to body surf?

Stick between the flags. The average Kiwi knows how to swim but a lot of these Europeans come from inland. They're only used to swimming in the bathtub with their rubber duckies. You even get the odd person doing the ol' nuddy swimming at night, never to be seen again.

Thanks for the tip.

- NZ Herald

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