Former All Black physiotherapist Malcolm Hood shares some remarkable stories from his long career with Neil Reid
Form slumps hit all elite New Zealand rugby players – but you would never expect that to result in an offer to provide a hitman to make the player permanently "go away".
But that's just what happened during Counties' second tour of South America in the mid-1980s, when a flippant comment from team physio Malcolm Hood resulted in a local rugby player with connections to the underworld saying Lindsay Raki could be shot and killed for just US$110.
The offer was made as Hood and team captain Alan Dawson – one of the best New Zealand players never to play for the All Blacks – were taken on a late-night drive through Uruguay's capital city of Montevideo by local two players who were in the team to face Counties the following day.
"I was in the back seat and partway around the player next to me lent over to me and whispered, 'Malcolm, who do you want killed?'," Hood – who was the All Blacks' first physio – told the Herald.
"I said, 'What?'. I thought there might be a translation issue but his English was quite good. He repeated himself and I said, 'Well who can I have killed?'. He said, 'Anyone in Uruguay, anyone'."
Hood responded with what he thought was a joke, nominating Raki; a New Zealand Sevens star who played more than 100 games for Counties.
"I said, 'Oh well, our first-five hasn't been training as well as I would want, kill him'," he said.
But it was no joke for the Uruguay player, who told Hood the hit would cost US$110 ($163); including US$73 for the actual act and a charge of US$60 to source the murder weapon.
"That was when I realised he was serious and I told him 'No, no, I don't want Lindsay Raki killed, I will just get him to do some more sit-ups'," Hood said.
"But he said, 'No it is all right, I will have him killed'."
The Counties and Uruguay side had met on the eve of their match in Montevideo. Defying normal rugby conventions, the local selection was so excited to be hosting its first New Zealand provincial team that they held the "after match" function the night before they clashed on the field.
Fear over what might happen to Raki saw Hood stick close to him for the duration of the team's stay in Uruguay.
"And I was glad when we all got out safely," he laughed.
Hood kept the shocking offer a secret until just "the last couple of years", finally revealing it to a shocked Raki.
"He was in a group with his mates, a lot of ex-Counties players, and when I told him the story he said, 'What, Hoodie!!'. The other guys said, 'Hoodie, that's the only mistake you have ever made in your life . . . you should have let the guy have his way'."
Forty years on, Hood can now laugh about the comment that could have seen him responsible for the ordering of Raki's death.
The physio also turned life-saver during one of Counties' tours of South America.
The side was flying between destinations in Argentina when a "panicking voice" talking Spanish made an announcement over the plane's intercom system.
Hood was battling a stomach bug and said despite a clear "kerfuffle up the front" of the plane his priority was to keep his face "buried" in a paper bag.
A minute later and the message was repeated in English, asking for anyone with a medical background onboard to head to the front of the plane due to an "emergency".
"Thought a big plane this size, there will be somebody medical onboard, and that I wasn't much used to anyone being this unwell," Hood said. "But shortly after one of the female cabin crew tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to please come urgently to the front of the plane."
Hood was then told that the captain of the plane – the head of the aircrew – had collapsed. After examining the gravely ill pilot, Hood realised how serious the situation was.
"I didn't know whether he was having some sort of stroke or brain issue, but I knew it was life-threatening," he said.
"I said, 'We need to get him oxygen, we need to elevate his feet and how low can we fly the plane?'. They told me that flying low was no problem, the plane came down and it appeared out the portholes at just above pampas grass level . . . we were flying low."
Emergency services were waiting on a nearby tarmac for the plane when it landed.
On his next flight, Aerolineas Argentinas crew told him that the pilot was recovering, and then let Hood sit in the cockpit as a sign of appreciation.
It was not the only flight drama Hood and the Counties team experienced during their two tours of South America in the 1980s.
The side were on the first flight set to land at the nearest airport to one of Argentina's tourism hotspots - Iguacu Falls – since the runway had been lengthened to handle international flights.
Seats on the historic flight were booked as a "treat" for the Counties team. But Hood recalled it was anything but a smooth landing.
"When we came to land, we took up all the runway and kept on going. The plane didn't stop at the end of the runway and kept going and we ran through the run-off at the end of the runway. When we finally stopped, the nose of the plane was over the fence into the neighbouring farm.
"While it was now classed an international airport, maybe it wasn't best suited to the size of the plane that we were in," Hood joked.
Rugby boss: 'I was a cannibal out of necessity'
Hood enjoyed plenty of post-match banter with the opposition during his time in top-flight rugby.
But one occasion in particular, in Chile, stands out when a suited and "beautifully spoken" senior rugby official told him that he "was a cannibal".
Counties travelled to Chile to play a local selection during their second South American tour in the mid-1980s.
Hood spent a lot of time speaking to the local rugby side's president during the after-match function.
"He and I got on really well, he was a really nice fellow," Hood said. "He had a depth of character about him that I really liked.
"We talked for ages and he brought up the fact that he was a cannibal. And then the story evolved that he was a cannibal out of necessity."
The rugby official then revealed to Hood that he was one of just 16 of the 45 passengers and crew onboard Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 – also known as "Miracle Flight 571" - which crashed in the Andes in October 1972.
Nineteen of the passengers were members of Uruguay's Old Christians rugby club.
The official search for the crash site and any survivors was called off eight days after the plane went down. Two months later 16 people were eventually rescued, after two members of the rugby team hiked for 10 days into Chile to find help.
Once the small food supply salvaged from the plane wreck had been used up, survivors turned to eating the flesh of those who died in the crash.
"If they hadn't eaten their companions they wouldn't have survived," Hood said.
"It is bad enough to think you are a cannibal for most of us, but with a deeply Catholic religion, they had to go against all their faith because you just don't do that sort of thing.
"Several years later the Catholic church absolved them. But they had to live with that conscience for some time.
"I knew the story, but it was quite something to meet someone who had been there. I just marvelled in the survival story. He was such a humble, decent person."
The staggering story of survival has been chronicled in several books, as well as the Hollywood blockbuster movie Alive.