Legendary All Black Bruce Robertson has died.
The world-class centre - one of the greatest players to play for both the All Blacks and his beloved province, Counties (now Counties Manukau) - died on Friday night, aged 71.
A statement issued on behalf of his family said he passed away “peacefully”.
The Herald understands he had fought a lengthy health battle.
Considered by many as the greatest centre in New Zealand rugby history, Robertson was a giant of the game in the 1970s and early 1980s.
He played 34 tests for the All Blacks between 1972 and 1981 and 102 matches in total, while he represented Counties on 135 occasions and helped lead the side to their sole National Provincial Championship triumph in 1979.
“We are terribly sad to hear of the passing of one of Counties Manukau’s greatest All Blacks,” Counties Manukau Rugby Football Union chief executive Aaron Lawton said.
“Bruce was an iconic player and a true rugby servant. He leaves a lasting legacy at our union and would have been incredibly proud to watch his grandson Jadin pull on the hoops last year.
“We are working with his family now to confirm a service at Navigation Homes Stadium and will release details as soon as possible.”
Robertson is survived by wife Nellie and was a father to Jax and Dion, Natalie and Tom, Shannon and Joe, and a grandfather to Jadin, Mya, Niko, Siena, Zara, Taylor, Pippa, Asher and Charlize.
In the statement issued on Saturday, the family said: “Bruce’s whānau would like to acknowledge and thank everyone for their love and support at this time.”
Robertson’s status with Counties rugby is summed up by a public fan vote they previously ran looking for nominations for their best ever players.
After fans had voted, the names were handed over to a panel of experts to make up a list of the top 15 players to have played for the province.
Robertson was placed in top spot.
“The brilliant centre of the 1970s and early 90s was ahead of his time. Silky skills, beautiful hands, pace and swerve and was someone that never seemed to play a bad game,” his citation read.
“Robertson made his Counties debut in 1971 at age 19 and would go on to play 135 games until his retirement in 1982.
“He played 34 test matches for the All Blacks from 1972-81 and was widely considered the greatest centre of all-time.
“The 69-year-old’s son-in-law Dion Kingi and grandson Jadin Kingi have gone on to follow in his footsteps and pull on the red, white and black jersey.”
Robertson’s All Blacks career spanned nine years; debuting in 1972.
He ended his test career against the touring Scotland team in 1981, a decision which took him out of contention for the controversial 1981 Springbok tour of New Zealand.
Robertson and then All Blacks captain Graham Mourie both made themselves unavailable for the Springbok tour on moral grounds. Robertson had toured South Africa with the 1976 All Blacks and after what he witnessed on that tour would take no part in clashes against the Boks again.
Mourie told the Herald two years ago he believed other players had considered pulling out of the 1981 tour, but opted to play the Springboks out of fear of losing their spots post-tour.
His biography on the All Blacks website states: “Robertson’s last appearance for the All Blacks was in the 1981 test against Scotland at Eden Park and he bowed out on an appropriately high note, scoring a try himself and with his dashing running helping Wilson score three.
“Robertson finished with 102 All Black matches, including 34 tests.
“Robertson continued to play for Counties until 1982, taking his tally of matches for the union to 135. There were many highlights in his provincial career including being in the side which won the 1979 first division title, but he suffered by being in many sides which suffered unlucky defeats or draws in Ranfurly Shield challenges.
“He is thus in that elite of All Blacks, among whom also can be counted such legends as Colin Meads, Brian Lochore, Chris Laidlaw and Wayne Shelford, who have never been in Shield-winning sides.”