New Zealand rugby seemed in good shape as it counted down to 1967, the 75th Jubilee of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union.
The All Blacks were arguably the best team in the world and the transformation process was proceeding smoothly. Wellington's Mick Williment had inherited Don Clarke's position as a goal-
kicking fullback, Brian Lochore had succeeded Wilson Whineray as a winning captain, and one old hand from the Kiwis had given way to another as coach.
As Fred Allen contemplated his tasks for 1967, he faced two problems. One was the South African issue. Allen had timed his run to All Black coach on the assumption that if he succeeded Neil McPhail in 1966, he would take the side to South Africa in 1967. His desire to avenge the 1949 series loss burned deep. But no sooner had he become coach than the prospect of that tour vanished and its replacement by a Northern Hemisphere tour finalised.
The second problem was less simple. New Zealand rugby, the game Allen loved, indeed had devoted much of his life to, was static. The All Black forwards were awesome, perhaps the best pack they have ever fielded. They moved like a steel blanket across the field, dominating, even obliterating opposing packs.
But such technical triumphs could never excite anyone but a technician. A man who had played the sublime 15-man rugby of the post-war Kiwis side captained by Charlie Saxton two decades earlier knew there were heights yet to be scaled. There was a new generation of Kiwis growing up who might not automatically love the New Zealand game. That was a threat that attacking rugby could help Allen overcome.
The dominant mindset of the New Zealand game still held that beating the Springboks required the most dour and physical of struggles, attrition by forward play; 15-man rugby was only for festival games, the Barbarians versus the Harlequins.
But the threat to the national game posed by boring rugby was about to be resolved. Like most revolutions, this one was led by palace insiders.
The players assembled for the team photo. This was one where the smiles couldn't help but shine through. Even for the veterans, it was a moment when they could reflect on their achievement and allow themselves a little pride as they pulled on the black stretch cotton jersey with the silver fern.
Before flying to San Francisco, the team enjoyed a week of what is now called 'bonding'.
Sid Going excepted, the rest of the squad were mostly occupied with some serious drinking. There was a serious purpose to it. They learned to look after each other in the confines of the hotel, to know when to tell a team-mate he was too far gone and it was time for bed. It was the old military way, and Major Saxton and Lieutenant Allen were in charge.
San Francisco provided its own reminder that the players were a long way from home.
Allen, Going, Kel Tremain and a few others witnessed an argument about the Vietnam War between three bar patrons, at least one a uniformed veteran of that conflict. No sooner had the All Blacks left the bar than the argument spilled out on to the street behind them, with the three men pulling guns and shooting each other. In what newspapers headlined as an "Eye-opener for All Blacks", one of the gunmen died on the spot, the other two lay wounded. That sort of thing didn't happen in Hamilton.
The tour opened against British Columbia, the province that supplied most of the Canadian national side. A crowd of 5500 people turned out at Vancouver's Empire Stadium, the kind of numbers Southland would expect for a game against Otago. Southland had regular rugby posts, too, while the Empire Stadium had gridiron- style tuning fork goalposts.
The ground was wet, with the city recovering from one of the worst storms in its history.
Grahame Thorne, Wayne Cottrell, Arthur Jennings and Murray Wills made their All Black debuts in this game, and Fergie McCormick was at fullback. He had a point to prove after all the controversy over Williment's exclusion. Within half an hour, he scored three tries.
The All Blacks ended with nine tries in a 36-3 win and local supporters went home with some solace after their experienced second-five Gerry Lorenz scored a try for them.
While a dollar didn't go far, host nations were generous to the players, just as New Zealanders were generous to their visiting rugby sides.
Tickets to shows at places like the London Palladium came free and there was no shortage of people willing to buy an All Black a drink. There was also a team fund for incidentals like shared taxis to shows. Saxton controlled that, and Allen was probably its main contributor when he enjoyed a successful night at Biarritz casino and turned his winnings over to the team.
Just how meagre a sum a dollar was soon became clear. The All Blacks were now mixing in entirely new social circles to those they had grown up in. For those who had been with Whineray, it was easier to deal with the upper end of the British class system, but the new men discovered a new world.
They were thrown in the deep end the Monday after their arrival when they attended the great social event of the tour: the British Sportsman's Club welcoming lunch at the Savoy Hotel. There was nothing less than a Bentley in the car park and the cheapest glass of wine cost more than the players' daily allowance.
At halftime in the first test of the tour, the scoreboard read New Zealand 18, England 5. As the All Blacks took their five minute break on the Twickenham turf and sucked on the traditional slices of orange, they could rest content.
Earle Kirton had celebrated his first test cap with two tries. Chris Laidlaw and Bill Birtwistle had scored one apiece. Bob Lyold had crossed for England just before halftime, but so sublimely had the All Blacks played that the game was in danger of turning into a rout.
The stunned English crowd could only applaud. On the other side of the world, New Zealanders rugged up against the night listened in wonder as Bob Irvine's commentary on Radio 2YA described the glorious carnage. No sooner had the game restarted than Malcolm Dick scored another try for the All Blacks. Five tries in 42 minutes at Twickenham was paradise gained.
That was as good as it got. The new model All Blacks had arrived, and where better to announce it than the home of rugby?
Then it all changed. For the 35 minutes until the final whistle blew, the All Blacks laboured and threatened but scored no more.
In the end, it was 23-11. The All Blacks had touched glory, held greatness in their hands for 45 minutes before England replied with spirit and determination.
At the end of the day, there was mutual respect in the handshakes. It had been a fabulous match. Queen Elizabeth was there with Prince Phillip, who was said to have a fair knowledge of the game.
Before the match started, the teams lined up, the band of the Grenadier guards played its rousing preludes, and the red carpet - or at least a canvas approximation of a carpet - had been rolled out.
Then the Queen, resplendent in a mustard-coloured coat, walked the red line and shook hands with the players and match officials.
Lochore accompanied her, introducing each of his men in turn.
Wales posed a genuine threat to New Zealand rugby's status. Before 1967, the Welsh had won three of the five tests between the two nations. If South Africa were New Zealand greatest opponents, the Welsh were a close second.
There wasn't as much running as they had hoped. But the rain had poured down throughout the game, the field was muddy and there were 32 penalties awarded, so running rugby was hard to play.
Instead, the All Blacks had given a superb exhibition of 15-man wet weather rugby and totally outplayed their willing opponents in a 13-6 win.
On a dry day, several journalists observed, the Welsh would have been heavily beaten. Instead it had been a reasonably tense match.
The morning after the Welsh test, Jazz Muller and Alister Hopkinson boarded a plane for their midday flight from Cardiff to Lyon. The trouble was the plane they boarded was going to America and the rest of the All Blacks were getting on the Lyon flight.
Still, it wasn't every day you could celebrate beating Wales, and you didn't get breathalysed getting on a plane. Somehow all 30 All Blacks made it to Lyon's Grand Nouvel Hotel for the start of their two-week sojourn in France. For about half of them, it was their first experience of a land where English was a foreign language.
France was a foreign land, one half-known if at all through faded photographs and the old men's tales of wartime adventures after dark.
Now it was the France of the 1960s, jazz cool with its art movies and Jet-set hang-outs. Here the stars were Johnny Hallyday and Brigitte Bardot, not the Beatles and Elizabeth Taylor.
No English-speaking land could match the sophistication of that France. You had to admit the French dressed better, loved better and lived better.
Once they were settled in their hotel, the All Blacks steered their way through the Sunday evening. They managed to delete 278 of the small French bottles of beer with the assistance of New Zealand Herald journalist TP McLean and others accompanying the team.
Later still, taking the night air, players discovered streets where exotically dressed - or undressed - ladies whispered "Bon soir, Monsieur" with an implied question mark at the end of the sentence. On K Road, such things were a lot more discreet. France was indeed a foreign land.
A stranger wandering into the All Blacks dressing room after the French test would have assumed they'd lost. There was nothing of what Whineray called the
"ecstatic chaos" of the winner's room.
No grinning and back-slapping, no jokes, just blood-stained players slumped on benches staring at the floor.
The All Blacks had given absolutely everything they had - there was only exhaustion left. It had been a bitterly cold, steam-rising-from-the-scrum sort of day, the skies thick with low cloud while whisps of Gaulloises-scented mist drifted in the air. There were 40,000 impassioned Frenchmen at Colombes Stadium cheering and whistling and stamping their feet against the cold. The All Blacks were in a contest they would remember above all others that would end in a 21-15 victory.
A week later, they beat Scotland 14-3 in a test notable for the sending off of Colin Meads for foul play, only the second player ever to be dismissed in test rugby history.
Not since 1924 had an All Black side toured unbeaten through the Northern Hemisphere and neither the Springboks nor Wallabies had ever done so. This was a powerful motivating factor, dispelling fatigue, driving them forward to one more effort.
The traditions of Barbarians rugby required touring sides to adopt their ethos of playing attacking 15-man rugby. That had troubled a few sides, notably the dour 1960-61 Springboks who'd lost their unbeaten record trying that style. But Lochore's men were playing 15-man rugby already so that was not a problem.
Lochore fielded a kick 45m out from the Barbarians line. He ran, passed to Kirton, who straightened, then it was Tony Steel, tearing down the left wing, taking the pass and running the All Blacks into immortality. McCormick converted to bring up a personal tally of 100 points on the British tour. He had succeeded with 44 out of his 90 goal attempts on tour, which was about par in that era.
The ball disappeared into the crowd. It was all over. They were going home unbeaten. Lochore was chaired off by his team-mates, exhausted joy and satisfaction shining from his face. The weight was off his shoulders and on theirs. The crowd sang Now is the Hour and Auld Lang Syne. The All Blacks had won 11-6. The tour was over.
The accolades began, and they were many and rich. Saxton and Allen had promised the '67 All Blacks would win by scoring tries. That promise had been fulfilled. They had scored 71 in 17 games, with 13 in the four victorious tests. Their three top try-scorers were wingers. The old days were gone. New Zealand would never go back to 10-man rugby.
Edited extract reproduced with permission from The Team That Changed Rugby Forever: The 1967 All Blacks by Alex McKay, published by New Holland, $35.