There's never been another man like Sir Brian Lochore in New Zealand Rugby.
He was the only All Black captain to also be a World Cup winning coach. His mana in the game was so great that two other All Black coaches, Laurie Mains in 1995, and Graham Henry in 2007, had him join their World Cup campaigns.
Yet perhaps his greatest achievement was that in the years from 1963, when he first made an All Black side, I doubt there would be a man or woman who met him who didn't like him. He was someone who, as several All Blacks I've talked with over the years all agreed, had natural leadership so embedded in his DNA he never needed to bark out orders, because once you knew him you only wanted him to think well of you.
Greg Cooper was a fullback in the 1986 team that became known as the Baby Blacks. An unauthorised tour of South Africa by a team calling themselves the Cavaliers had stripped almost all of the best players in the country away. But somehow Lochore took an All Black side in which 10 of the starting 15 were making their debuts, and beat a highly experienced French team, which had just shared what was then the Five Nations title, 18-9 at Lancaster Park.
Twenty years later Cooper would say, "From that day onwards I realised how important (Brian Lochore) has been to New Zealand Rugby. It's not just looking back at his great Rugby record. It's also looking at his ability to be a good person, who offers good advice, and who is someone you know you can turn to and talk to, even though he has legendary status."
That status was founded first on his playing abilities. On a warm, sunny September afternoon in 1965 at Eden Park, Lochore was at No.8 in an All Black side, captained by Wilson Whineray, playing the last test in a series with South Africa. Forwards didn't often run with the ball then, but Lochore, whose hand-eye co-ordination was a reflection of his teenage years as a national class tennis player, didn't hesitate when he saw a wayward Springbok kick coming his way 30 metres from the South African line.
He accelerated into a curving, evasive run Beauden Barrett fans would recognise. He slipped one tackler, twisted past another, and then a third. By now the Boks' defence was frayed. Lochore passed to centre Ron Rangi, who fed wing Ian Smith, who scored. The All Blacks would eventually win 20-3.
In 1966 Lochore was made All Black captain by new head coach, Fred Allen. "I'm no academic, no Rhodes scholar," Allen once told me, "but I'd had a bit of experience about how to manage men. The experience I had as a soldier (in World War II) certainly helped me to judge men."
There were two other, much more experienced, players in the side at the time, Colin Meads and Kel Tremain, both of whom captained their provincial sides. A few months before he died in 2017 Meads recalled a discussion Allen had with him in '66. "Tremain talks too much, Fred told me, and you're too rough to be the captain. So I'm going with a good farming guy, Lochore. And you know what? Fred was right."
When the All Blacks toured Britain and France in 1967 Allen had the side playing a brand of dynamic, free flowing test Rugby that was unheard of. He trusted Lochore enough that at intense 70 minute training runs Allen, the only coach on the tour, would hand over the forward drills to his captain while Allen ran the backs.
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That tour was the high point of Lochore's time as a player. When Allen stepped down as an unbeaten coach, a victim of Rugby politics, the All Blacks started to falter. Lochore captained the side that lost a series in South Africa and then retired. He was hounded into playing one more test, the third in the '71 Lions series in Wellington, which led to him leaving the famous note for his wife Pam, "Gone to Wellington to play test. Back on Sunday."
As a coach he showed all the leadership skills he had as a captain. He was appointed All Black coach in 1985, when New Zealand Rugby was trying to get used to the then astounding reality that a judge had cancelled the proposed '85 tour of South Africa.
By the time the '87 World Cup arrived there were still raw divisions over contact with South Africa, dating back to the dark days of the '81 Springbok tour here. The All Blacks assembled on Auckland's North Shore where some Rugby clubs had lost 50% of their junior players to football after the '81 tour.
Lochore had potentially taken on a poisoned chalice. On a tour of France at the end of 1986 David Kirk, who had led the Baby Blacks, was ostracised and humiliated by some of the Cavaliers who had returned to the All Blacks.
Possibly only a man with Lochore's status would have had the confidence to then appoint Kirk captain, when Lochore's first choice, Andy Dalton, the leader of the Cavaliers, was injured before the first game of the World Cup.
Lochore's huge emotional intelligence was demonstrated when he realised, after one session, that he could not have his two Alpha male assistant coaches, Alex Wyllie and John Hart, on the training ground at the same time. "I could see the players were confused. From then on we had one at a time out there with me at training."
His Rugby smarts started with the team selection. "We knew we didn't have big enough forwards to foot it with the English or the French or the Australians," he'd later explain. "We had to use all our skills and our rugby know-how."
Playing exciting, running Rugby that echoed the style of the 1967 side he had captained, Lochore's All Blacks of '87 won back hearts for the game in New Zealand, and, as a direct result of that attacking philosophy, scored three tries, a total not matched in a final until 28 years had passed, as they brushed aside France, 29-9, to take the Cup.
Lochore stepped down as coach at the end of the World Cup, but he was still in demand at the top level. In 1995 he was the campaign manager for Laurie Mains' squad at the Cup (Colin Meads was the manager), and in 2007 he was one of Graham Henry's selectors. The titles were different, but in many ways the roles were similar, basically that of a wise head, who the coaches knew had nothing but the good of the team at heart.
I last spent time with Sir Brian in 2015, when, typically, as a favour to a friend of his who owned a bookstore in Masterton, he drove into town to speak for no fee at a function to launch a World Cup book I'd written, and cheerfully answered every question the spellbound audience asked him.
They say you should never meet your heroes, for risk of being disappointed. Brian Lochore was a massive exception to that rule.