In the pantheon of All Blacks-Lions series moments sits a try scored by Ron Elvidge in the third test at Athletic Park on July 1, 1950.

The New Zealand captain left the field seven minutes before halftime after clashing with Welsh midfielder Jack Matthews in a tackle. Elvidge needed four stitches to his forehead, and one arm hung loose from a damaged collarbone. The second five-eighth returned early in the second half and roved behind the play, trying not to impinge on fullback Bob Scott's territory or vision.

In modern rugby, Elvidge would have been replaced but, in the aftermath of World War II, internationals were played under rules where losing a comrade on "the field of battle" was permanent. The All Blacks were already down to 13, having lost prop Johnny Simpson to a career-ending knee injury.

They needed Elvidge back. The skipper obliged.


A touch finder from halfback Vince Bevan brought New Zealand into the British Isles' 25 on the right flank. The New Zealand national film unit footage shows the lineout was won and the ball spun wide where Elvidge, wearing No 5, loomed on the left wing. No 8 Peter Johnstone fed him a pass and he galloped across the soft turf to crash through fullback Billy Cleaver's tackle. Despite the pain, he cradled the ball in both hands.

The try can be seen seven minutes into the video here:

On an overcast day, the crowd of 42,000 erupted from beneath a swarm of fedoras and trilbies. New Zealand had levelled at 3-3 in the days of three-point tries. A further Scott penalty secured the match 6-3, and the series 2-0 with a test to play.

Elvidge never played for New Zealand again.

"My memory of the game is pretty minimal," he admits. "I vaguely remember going over in the corner but the photo reminds me.

"I had been hurt, but not too badly; I remember the crash tackle."

Elvidge's life now operates at a more sedate pace. The retired obstetrician and gynaecologist turned 94 on March 2. As the oldest living All Black, he lives with wife Dawn on Herald Island, overlooking Auckland's expanding isthmus at Greenhithe and Hobsonville. The longevity crown sits comfortably, despite his faded rugby memories. He reclines in an easy chair with a walking stick parked adjacent.

The former captain maintains a commanding presence in a room surrounded by shelves teetering with books and New Zealand landscapes dotting the walls.

His voice resonates in full sentences with barely a crutch phrase heard. The delivery is authoritative but friendly, hinting at years of patrolling wards and providing an assured bedside manner. Contrails of grey hair drift back from his temples, offering a passing resemblance to John Thaw's Inspector Morse.

Elvidge was accustomed to dealing with pressure before the Lions tour. He captained Otago to beat Southland 17-11 and secure the Ranfurly Shield in 1947, and led them undefeated with the Log o' Wood through 1948. He led the All Blacks in the final two test defeats when Fred Allen got injured on the 1949 South African tour and applied his medical skills during a rail crash from Rhodesia to Pretoria which resulted in the death of a coal trimmer. And he specialised in juggling study and rugby while living in Dunedin.

"I don't think they [the Lions] intimidated me physically, or mentally for that matter. They were just as good as us, or even a bit better, so we were wary of what they might do.

"However, it was always an honour to be an All Black. It meant you'd played fairly well to be included, but you had to maintain that standard.

"I tried not to subject myself to too much pressure because I didn't respond well to it. I did what I wanted to do most of the time, but conformed as required in a team environment."

One example came earlier in the 1950 series. He called for a pass from Bevan down the blindside, seven minutes from fulltime in the first test at Carisbrook. Elvidge crashed over to seal a 9-9 draw.

Despite playing alongside greats of the New Zealand game such as Scott and Allen, Elvidge got more enjoyment at club and provincial level.

"They were top of the tree, but I preferred playing with my university [club] mates because we were together so often, whereas I'd only play about one game in 20 with the others."

That came with sacrifice.

"Trying to swot and trot around the field is not the easiest thing to do with two practices and a team talk each week. You could build a guilty conscience.

"You were always stuffed and felt like putting your feet up with a cup - or maybe a jug - of something.

"It was hard yakka, but I had to get through my exams. I was fairly strict in that respect. You couldn't play around ... and fair enough, too."

Securing the Ranfurly Shield in the pre-national provincial championship era made Elvidge a cult hero in Otago. The Otago Daily Times even ran a letter taking issue with a statement that he was a "hero of local youngsters".

The letter insisted he was in fact "the hero of 99 per cent of the football-going public of Dunedin. When he walks down the street, he turns more heads than Bing Crosby would."

Elvidge was aware of the public passion, which had origins close to home.

"My father was a keen rugby man and the general manager at [Dunedin merchants] J. Rattray and Son. Apparently [when Otago had midweek Shield fixtures] it was quite a thing to watch the old man head out to the games and then the various bosses would go in descending order until the office boy was told to hold the fort.

"My greatest critic was actually my sister [Betty]. She'd tell me 'you did this or that'. She knew.

"I also worked under the best coach I ever had in Vic Cavanagh [junior]. He was incredible; as fit as a buck rat and a bloke who could always remember what he'd said to you, and vice versa. If he told you to do something, you'd do it."

After missing the final Lions test due to those Wellington injuries, Elvidge ended his representative career and headed to England. He pursued his medical career at Oxford under New Zealand-born obstetrics and gynaecology specialists John Stallworthy and Bill Hawksworth.

You have to be of a certain standard before taking up a scalpel. I did lots of post-operative rounds to see if my patients were still alive ... no, it wasn't as bad as that.


"I did a six-month run and enjoyed 'O and G'.

"I later performed hysterectomies and things like that, which comes with a sense of responsibility. You have to be of a certain standard before taking up a scalpel.

"I did lots of post-operative rounds to see if my patients were still alive ... no, it wasn't as bad as that," he quips.

The work ethic Elvidge built around rugby and study paid dividends. On returning to New Zealand, he went into private practice as well as working at National Women's Hospital.

The Herald's trip to Chez Elvidge came with the chance to view a conveyor belt of memorabilia.

Dawn fossicked through her husband's archive and returned with a First XV of various jerseys.

"Where have those come from? You are clever, dear," Elvidge says. "I never knew I still had these."

The eyes twinkle and the walking stick stands to attention as he ambles across the room to the collection, some of which still have "ELVIDGE" stenciled inside the collars.

A highlight was his recent New Zealand Rugby-issued All Blacks cap which, according to Elvidge, was yet to exit its box. He offered Dawn a sneak peek of it on his head, much to her delight.

As we make our goodbyes Elvidge springs to his feet, booming "see you in 10 years, boys".

He extends a mitt and grasps yours with a firmness that lets you know that despite the fading memories, the ball - and the series - were always in safe hands 67 years ago at Athletic Park.