Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Coaching great a tactical genius

Jim Amos was a master coach before the term was invented.

His name has largely been forgotten, but there's a convincing argument Amos was one of the greatest coaches that New Zealand league - indeed New Zealand sport - has produced.

We know all about Stephen Kearney, Frank Endacott, Brian McClennan, Graham Lowe, Ces Mountford et al, but the man who achieved the best record against Australia isn't often mentioned.

Amos masterminded the Kiwis' four successive wins over Australia in 1952-53, a mark Kearney hopes to match next week in Newcastle.

Amos was a tactical genius and also initiated a player-driven culture, decades before it became commonplace.

"Jim was a player's coach," remembers Des White. "He mixed with the boys, had a beer with us and understood us. He had the ability to lift the players. They would die for their coach."

Perhaps his greatest feat was coming up with a plan to nullify the impact of Australian captain Clive Churchill, then regarded as the world's finest player. Even some of the Kiwis doubted the idea but it worked brilliantly, particularly in the 49-25 second-test win in 1952.

"He spotted a weakness in Churchill no one else had," said New Zealand league historian John Coffey. "It hadn't happened before, so I think Churchill panicked a bit, as did his team."

Tactical analysis is taken for granted today but in the 1950s it was much more difficult - everything was done by instinct and observation.

As fellow forward Lory Blanchard recounted in The Kiwis, Amos noticed Churchill always stepped off his left foot as he was returning kicks. He instructed his speedy loose forward trio - which included Alister Atkinson who had been a national sprint champion - to encircle Churchill.

White wasn't initially convinced: "I wasn't sure about his ideas. They seemed risky. But they worked beautifully."

Amos was steeped in league. A product of the Addington club, he represented Canterbury and Auckland and played a single test in 1932. After his retirement as a player he became a Kiwis selector and in 1952 took on the coaching role.

"He didn't intend changing things too much," remembers Roy Moore. "He said we already had a lot of experience and knowledge. We knew how to play and he was there to put everything in place."

Amos demanded discipline, but also understood footballers.

"He didn't want to change our lifestyles," says Alan Riechelmann. "We had some West Coast miners that worked all week, then hit the beers before playing a blinder. He didn't want to change the recipe."

However, Amos also had some firmly-held beliefs, as Canterbury prop John Bond found out to his cost. More than six decades on, Bond is still convinced he missed out on the 1952 tour to Australia due to an ill-timed encounter with the future Kiwis coach. In 1948, a 17-year-old Bond was selected by Amos for his Canterbury debut against West Coast in Greymouth. However, the night before the match Bond met up with friends from nearby Reefton.

"We went to the Stillwater dance," remembers Bond. "We met a couple of nurses and ended up down at the beach until the early hours of the morning."

Bond returned to the team hotel around 6am, only to run into Amos in the lobby.

"He asked me where I had been," recalls Bond. "I said I'd been to church."

Fast forward a few years and Bond was a hot tip for the 1952 Kiwis team, but missed out.

Bond later had his hypothesis confirmed.

"We were at the Station hotel in Auckland in 1954," recalls Bond. "Jim and I were talking about the upcoming trip to Great Britain. He looked at me and said he 'needed good men ... needed to be able to vouch for every man's character'. I laughed and said, 'but Jim, I only went to church'."

- NZ Herald

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