Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

100 Greatest All Blacks - 1st XV: No 2 Sean Fitzpatrick

Combat rounded out Sean Fitzpatrick's personality. He flourished under the flame of battle yet when it came time to sign off his distinguished All Black career, he did not argue.

Confidantes advised him to retire in 1998 and so did others like Martin Crowe who had battled similar chronic knee injuries.

"It was the best decision, the right decision and it had been waiting for a while. I'd had long enough," Fitzpatrick recalled of his verdict to call time on all rugby including 92 tests for the All Blacks.

After a spell at home, Fitzpatrick and his family have spent the last decade based in London where the former All Black captain is involved in a range of business interests and keeps close tabs on the rugby scene.

It is a different palate from his All Black callup in '86 when injuries and suspension created gaps for Fitzpatrick to get a taste of test rugby. Regular rugby for Auckland alongside props Steve McDowall and John Drake boosted the young hooker's belief.

"Drakey urged me to have a crack at my opposite, he was my mentor and wanted me to be more of a prop than a hooker. Then Mark Shaw told me to always prepare as if you were No 2, so you never assumed you were good enough," said.

"By the end of the World Cup, circumstances meant I'd had my chance and held my spot and that gave me a lot of confidence. By then I felt I deserved to be there.

"When I look back, the '88-89 and '96 All Black teams were the best I played in. Those sides were full of guys who were just the best in their position and did their job superbly and collectively we were unbeatable really."

Rivalries with the physically imposing Tommy Lawton then Phil Kearns and Philippe Dintrans drew the best from the All Black hooker.

He had all the physical weapons to cope with test rugby but it was his unbending attitude which took him to the top echelon.

"It's all about never giving a sucker an even break," Fitzpatrick concurs. "I was never going to come off the field unless I was carried off and I never wanted to give anyone else a chance."

Fitzpatrick thinks being the youngest in his family and competing against older kids because of his size, hardened his will to win outlook.

He and the All Blacks trained even harder after losing the '95 World Cup final so they could get the jump on the Springboks in the historic series win the next year.

"That was the fittest and strongest I have ever been and it gave us the results we wanted in what was such a huge thing for my generation. I remember walking off the field and Don Clarke coming up to me crying and thanking us for what we had done."

Eventually Fitzpatrick's push to stay on the field throughout his career told on him as his knee screamed enough. That left several curly tricky questions for rugby trivia buffs about Fitzpatrick's final test opposition and venue.

Statistics
Date of birth: 4 June 1963
Position: Hooker
Matches: 128
Tests: 92
Test debut: 28 June 1986 v France, Christchurch
Last test: 29 November 1997 v Wales, London
Province: Auckland
Franchise: Blues
Test tries: 12
Test points: 55

- NZ Herald

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