Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Tony Woodcock - 100 not out

It's a milestone, but the quiet man at the heart of the All Black pack doesn't want a fuss

The big one... scoring the All Blacks' only try during the World Cup final against France at Eden Park. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The big one... scoring the All Blacks' only try during the World Cup final against France at Eden Park. Photo / Brett Phibbs

It was one of those afternoons when former North Harbour players turned up to give a few lessons to the Kaipara College 1st XV.

They eased off on the smash approach, as much to protect themselves as the students. But former All Black and Harbour skipper Wayne Shelford got an early wake-up about some of the challenges.

"I just thought I'd cart the ball up, and this guy dumped me on my arse," he recalled.

'The school coach told me this bloke was going to be an All Black and when I looked at the size of the man at the speeches later, I thought he might well be right.

"He just stood out; you don't see too many like him at high school."

Several years later, Shelford was coaching Harbour and picked that teenager, Tony Woodcock, for his provincial debut.

That started the loosehead prop's first class career which reaches a highlight tomorrow in Wellington when he plays his 100th test for the All Blacks.

His first came in Cardiff in late 2002 after coach John Mitchell decided to leave experienced props Dave Hewett and Greg Somerville behind to rehab for the next World Cup campaign.

Asking Woodcock to shout out long and loud about his career is like asking him to convert tries. It has never been his nature to converse at length when a few words will do.

It was a special day 11 years ago when he formed the front row alongside Keven Mealamu (also in his first test) and Carl Hayman against Wales at the Millennium Stadium.

They were in a side which collaborated for a special 43-17 victory after a tour loss and a stalemate with England then France.

"You remember it forever but it goes pretty quick so you have just got to embrace it and get amongst it," he said.

That black jersey, and many others he has worn since, are kept at home as reminders of his times with his All Black mates and a career which does not yet appear to have a stop sign for the 32-year-old.

"This will be a proud moment and I am just really delighted to have the opportunity and for the body to hang in for this long, and I guess to have the trust of the coaches," Woodcock said.

"Again it is just a normal test match - prepare the same and just take it day by day."

Woodcock honed his strong frame with work around the family farm in Kaukapakapa.

He still enjoys getting back to the farm because it freshens his mind away from the glare of publicity and the All Blacks.

"That is quite important at this level too," he said.

One of his strongest memories was the World Cup triumph in 2011, when he scored the All Blacks' sole try in the 8-7 victory.

Training methods have changed significantly since he started in pro rugby, and playing methods and ideas have also shifted.

The new scrum laws were one such instance last week in Sydney, where both teams had introduction problems.

Woodcock said he had been packing down differently for a long time, and it would take time to get used to the new bind and referee's instructions.

But his instincts suggested the changes would benefit the sport.

Woodcock may not appear as massive as some props but many coaches have admired his top-class technique.

"He is naturally strong," Shelford said, "and the quality exuded out of him. Technically he is very sharp, very mobile for a big guy and has the speed and strength to lift in the lineouts. He has been a class act."

All Black coach Steve Hansen spoke warmly about his athletic ability and his tough mental attitude.

He had rarely seen Woodcock rattled and knew he could rely on him.

"Most things don't faze him and he has been through quite a bit at times and he has handled that pretty easily," said Hansen. "He always puts the team first, he is quiet and he won't be liking me talking about him now.

"He's a humble bloke and does not want any fuss or bother, he just wants to get out there and do the job.

"That epitomises his performance because a lot of the time you don't see what he is doing, but he does plenty and we are all very proud of him."

Tony Dale Woodcock

Test 1: November 23, 2002 v Wales at Cardiff won 43-17, propped against Ben Evans (retired 2008).

Test 25: November 11, 2006 v France at Lyon won 47-3, propped against Pieter de Villiers (retired 2008).

Test 50: June 13, 2009 v France at Dunedin lost 22-27, propped against Sylvain Marconnet (last played for France in 2011).

Test 75: August 20, 2011 v South Africa at Port Elizabeth lost 5-18, propped against Jannie du Plessis.

Test 100: August 24, 2013 v Australia at Wellington, prop against Ben Alexander.

- NZ Herald

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