One of the longest-serving halfbacks in Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby history has died, aged 80.

Barry Robert Neale played eight seasons of inter-provincial first class rugby from 1958 to 1965, with 65 matches for Hawke's Bay and nine for Wellington while playing in the capital in 1960-1961.

His debut at age 20 was against East Coast in August 1958 and four days later he was in the Bay team that beat Australia 8-6 at McLean Park, Napier.

He also played the less-memorable match against the British Isles the following season, in which the Lions opened their tour with 13 three-point tries and a 52-12 win, and against South Africa in 1965.

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He also played in three Ranfurly Shield challenges, for Wellington against Auckland in 1961 for the Bay in a 3-3 draw with Auckland in 1963 and a 17-21 loss to Taranaki in 1965.

It was a game recalled this week by teammate Neil Thimbleby, who had first seen Neale play in the 1958 game against the Wallabies, soon noting the player's "brilliant pass," including a reverse in that match in New Plymouth which he says "completely flummoxed" the referee, who ruled forward pass.

"A forward pass it definitely was not," said Thimbleby, also recalling another incident in the game with "Ian MacRae" in full flight with little to beat to the tryline, when the referee stopped play because there were two balls on the field — the second, Thimbleby said, being in the in-goal area.

Neale retired soon afterwards, when he might have otherwise played on had the Ranfurly Shield been back in the Bay.

The retirement posed questions for coach Colin Le Quesne as he continued Hawke's Bay's abiding quest for the Shield, which he met by transforming Te Aute College player Hepa Paewai from second five-eighths to halfback in the side that would win the "log" against Waikato in 1966.

Neale played for Napier Tech Old Boys in 1958 and 1959, but after two years with Poneke in Wellington, he was lured back to the Bay and played for Napier HSOB.

Pat Magill, a Napier HSOB stalwart who became president of the Hawke's Bay union, recalled employing Neale to lay lino and vinyl, so he could have time to train for rugby.

"Barry became so expert at it he went out on his own," Magill said.

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He played in an era when the All Blacks were successively well-endowed with halfbacks, from Taranaki pair Roger Urbahn and Ken Briscoe to Otago great Chris Laidlaw, and also scored few tries, although one was a crucial touchdown in a rare Hawke's Bay win over Canterbury, 20-6 in 1964.

Born on May 25, 1938, he died in Napier on November 11. A private family service was held.