Breakfast time in South Africa, the 1996 morning after the All Blacks won their first test series in that rugby-besotted land.

Only the insomniacs, hotel staff and sensible tourists had surfaced but there is a bit of noise coming from one end of the corridor. Is it an early morning hubbub or a late night commotion? A search reveals a few tired and emotional All Blacks, including Frank Bunce, still mulling over the historic triumph.

Official duties were only a few hours away so the group thought they'd carry on. Just another case of the famed stamina Bunce had for life and rugby as he earned his Prince of Darkness nickname.

Slow to ignite but a long burn. That was Bunce. He was 30 when he made his All Black debut and nearly 36 when he fell off the radar after failing to return in time from Europe for selection.

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He had played 55 tests in a rugged and productive manner where his combination with Walter Little and contests against the fine Wallaby pair of Tim Horan and Jason Little were one of the treats of the international calendar.

Bunce brought the power to keep his feet in a tackle while he defended with a real crunch and also understood how to deliver a sweet pass to his outsides. His frame was honed for combat after years running the rubbish carts, building his endurance and understanding his physical limits.

He was as charming as he was brutal, perhaps as a result of his royal lineage where he carried Nuiean bloodlines as a descendant of George Rex, one of George III's sons.

Bunce got his first game for Auckland in 1986 but his real advance came when he shifted to North Harbour in 1991, made the Samoan side for the World Cup then the All Blacks the year after.

Statistics
Date of birth: 4 February 1962
Position: Centre
Test debut: 18 April 1992 v World XV at Christchurch
Final test: 6 December 1997 v England at London
Matches: 69
Tests: 55
Provinces: Auckland, North Harbour
Franchise: Chiefs
Test tries: 20
Test points: 96