It's not too late for New Zealand Rugby to admit it was wrong over the way the organisation treated Keith Murdoch.

That's according to author and historian Ron Palenski, writer of a new book on the Murdoch saga which started 46 years ago this November. The big Otago prop was sent home from the 1972-73 All Black tour of Canada, Britain, Ireland and France after allegedly punching a security guard at the Angel Hotel in Cardiff the night after the All Blacks' 19-16 win over Wales, a match in which Murdoch scored a try.

But Murdoch never permanently returned to New Zealand. He spent most of his after-rugby life in the Australian outback until he died earlier this year at the age of 74.

"I would say that New Zealand Rugby should acknowledge that Keith Murdoch was treated harshly by the New Zealand Rugby Union at the time," Palenski says from his office at the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in Dunedin.


"It would never happen today. There would be lawyers on all sides, non-disclosure agreements and probably compensation paid.

"Keith was treated badly by the game he was serving."

The unfairness of Murdoch's treatment is still astonishing nearly half a century later.

In the very land where concepts of justice were developed over centuries, a rugby player was utterly denied any semblance of a hearing.

There was no investigation of the facts, no independent assessment of what may or may not have happened and no chance for Murdoch to present his side of the story - with or without a support person.

Instead, Palenski's book records that the chairman of the Four Home Unions, John Tallent, effectively acted as judge, jury and executioner. He told the chairman of the NZRFU Jack Sullivan by phone that unless Murdoch was sent home, the tour would be in jeopardy or the All Black manager Ernie Todd would need to be replaced.

But just why could the Home Unions interfere in the touring All Blacks' internal affairs?

"In the context of the early 1970s, it's fair to say there was still a good deal of forelock tugging going on. There was this ingrained belief that whatever the Home Unions, or more particularly England's RFU, decided that was the right thing to do.

"If the Murdoch affair did do one thing, it marked the beginning of the end for forelock tugging."

From the time that Murdoch changed his flight home and diverted to Darwin to live the rest of his life in the Australian outback, journalists have always dreamed of getting the ultimate scoop – Murdoch talking about that night in Cardiff.

No one ever succeeded, although some came close.

The legendary T P McLean of the New Zealand Herald found him in Western Australia in 1974, but the encounter was brief.

What Palenski has reluctantly revealed in an interview about the book is that it was he, as the New Zealand Press Association correspondent on the All Blacks tour of Australia in 1974, who found out through contacts where Murdoch was.

The demands of his news reporting cycle meant he couldn't afford time away from the tour, so he passed the information on to anyone who could get to the remote place where Murdoch was.

McLean, obviously with a generous New Zealand Herald expense account, made it to the Cowra Line Camp in the Pilbara Desert.

When Murdoch saw McLean, he told the veteran journalist – according to the reportage of the time – to "just keep moving".

That a book about Keith Murdoch is published nearly 50 years after the saga reminds us of the extraordinary fascination the episode still holds in our sporting history.

Palenski has produced a valuable and eminently readable account which puts the sorry affair into context.

For that reason alone, this is an exceedingly valuable addition to our sporting literature.

The board of New Zealand Rugby should admit their predecessors were wrong and posthumously apologise to Keith Murdoch.

Murdoch – The All Black who never returned by Ron Palenski is published by Upstart Press