The aroma of success protecting the black jersey enveloped the room like liniment, handshakes slapped with sonic booms and hair was filled with salt more than pepper as former All Blacks congregated at the Langham Hotel last night for their annual reunion dinner ahead of tonight's test.
The evening doubled as a vehicle for 10 former players and the late Herald sports editor Sir Terry McLean to be inducted into the International Rugby Board's Hall of Fame.
Guests were treated to poignant images and videos of the inductees: Sir Colin Meads glowering at a lineout, Grant Fox delivering a metronomic kick in front of a packed Eden Park, a poker-faced Sean Fitzpatrick leading the team with a British-accented commentator observing, "Give him a yard and he'll take five", and Sir Fred Allen cutting a dashing figure in a baby blue sweater in his twilight years.
Don Clarke, Michael Jones, Ian Kirkpatrick, Sir John Kirwan, Graham Mourie and George Nepia also joined the scroll of rugby royalty.
A question-and-answer session was the highlight. Mourie, the 1978 Grand Slam-winning captain, described how he found out about his test debut: "My father bowled up while I was feeding the pigs and said, 'You're playing the Lions in Dunedin on Saturday'."
Mourie's dry wit was also evident talking about the poor atmosphere before a test against Australia in 1982. He wanted to put up a team notice which said, "Due to a lack of interest in the test, the team meeting has been cancelled."
"We did have the meeting eventually, but we still lost."
Sir Colin's intuitive ability to hold court never wanes but Kirkpatrick trumped him with his yarn of "Pinetree" passing him the ball in a 1971 test at Lancaster Park, where he scored his famous try. "He never passed to anyone." Sir Colin rebutted by saying it was because he was getting dealt to in a ruck.
Fitzpatrick enlightened the audience on his path to the All Black fiefdom when the University club coach Graham Henry approached him and Fox at the clubrooms in the early 1980s.
"You guys could be All Blacks if you'd cut back on those," he said, referring to the smokes and rum and Cokes in the vicinity. Sir Colin backed up that assessment with Fitzpatrick at an age-group match in Marlborough.
Fitzpatrick says Fox reassured him: "Don't worry, you'll never be an All Black."
Jones paid tribute to Bryan Williams, who had inspired him as an All Black of Pacific Island origin. Jones debuted in 1987 during the first World Cup match against Italy, when he scored a try. "Thankfully Foxy went left where I was. He never scored tries so I was confident he'd pass it."
Fitzpatrick added Jones was one of the most disciplined players he'd met.
"He'd say 'Shucks' instead of the F word and drank orange juice in team court sessions. The rule was he had to drink as much orange juice as we drank beer. He was always sick before anyone else."
Given the value of camaraderie at such a convivial evening, the NZRU deserves credit for sustaining the fraternity ties. Two tickets to today's game and the dinner came complimentary to all former All Blacks.