When Johnny Simpson dangled broadcaster Winston McCarthy over the side of the SS Tamaroa on the All Blacks way to South Africa in 1949, there were fears the life rafts might have been needed.

McCarthy had been sponsored by the Government as the official commentator but after several weeks of close quarter confinement on the boat, his incessant chatter got too much for some of the players.

Simpson and his propping mate Kevin Skinner hung McCarthy over the rail by his ankles with all sorts of threats about ending his prattling. It was only later when each prop confessed he was relying on his mate, that they all realized how close they had come to losing McCarthy in the drink.

The shock cured McCarthy for a day or two as he reflected on his close call.


Simpson was known as "the Iron Man" although that description did seem strange for someone whose test career was done in four years when he suffered a severe knee injury. He was tempted to return, like his good buddy Bob Scott, for the '53-'54 tour to Europe but eventually decided to stay in retirement.

He and '49 captain Fred Allen did link up again during Auckland's great run from '59 to '63 when Simpson was in charge of the scrum and technical work.

Simpson started his sports career in rugby league but switched during the war to play for the Kiwis and later the All Blacks. He played with Has Catley and Kevin Skinner in all four tests in South Africa in '49 where most unbiased judges felt they had the measure of their Springbok opposites.

These days a plaster cast of Simpson's huge hands is at the Rugby Museum in Palmerston North and entry is free to anyone who can match their size. Very few have passed the test.

Date of birth: 18 March 1922
Position: Tighthead prop
Matches: 30
Tests: 9
Test debut: 14 June 1947 v Australia, Brisbane
Last test: 1 July 1950 v British & Irish Lions, Wellington
Province: Auckland
Test tries: 0
Test points: 0