By CHRIS RATTUE



Rugby coach and selector. Died aged 52.



Gordon Hunter had his own surprise for the press corp as he came to prominence in the 1990s.



As reporters reached for their notebooks and tape recorders at interview time, Hunter would react in kind - producing a tape machine or notebook of his own.

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It was a typical ploy for a man who never quite lost the persona of the long-serving Dunedin detective he once was. Police work does, after all, involve large doses of suspicion and evidence collecting.



But Hunter's tape recorder ploy also reflected the quirky Hunter humour that led free-spirited Otago back Marc Ellis to nickname him "The Riddler".



A prime exhibit, as Hunter might have quipped, came after Otago had beaten the Lions at Carisbrook in 1993. Hunter was hit by a question from an English journalist and suddenly reached for his notebook to check a few facts.



After leafing through a few pages, he paused, and told a startled press contingent: "Sorry, they're my murder inquiry notes."



Hunter lost his two-year battle with cancer last Saturday, hours after he watched from home the Highlanders trounce the Cats at Carisbrook.



Since his diagnosis, many of his former players have travelled to Dunedin to spend time with a man who attracted extreme loyalty.



"It's just so hard to put into words how much I'll miss him," was the reaction of All Blacks captain Anton Oliver.



Hunter had been the Highlanders inaugural coach in 1996, after building his reputation with Otago.

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Born in Southland, he came under the influence of coaching icon Eric Watson after he joined Zingari-Richmond in Dunedin. But after playing in a couple of matches for Otago on the wing, fate intervened.



A workshop accident caused the loss of an eye - something that Hunter battled to come to terms with for a while.



It led to the famous Hunter one-eyed look - he had a prosthetic eye, but it was uncomfortable and reminded him of the accident, so Hunter consigned it to its case.



He was, in typical Hunter fashion, happy to show visitors the discarded eye. But it stayed in the box.



"You might worry about looking like Marty Feldman," he reckoned, before adding that "vanity isn't something we should make a highlight of."



That one good Hunter eye, though, was cast in some pretty handy directions when it came to putting a rugby team together.



Laurie Mains may have given Otago teams structure and led them to a title in 1991, when Hunter was his assistant, but Hunter gave Otago flair.



They played in three NPC finals during his tenure, as well as recording that famous win over the Lions in 1993 and another over the Springboks the following season.



His success with Otago led to four years as an All Blacks selector, including the 1996 and 1997 seasons, when he was assistant to coach John Hart. The famous first series victory in South Africa came in 1996.



Hunter and his schoolteacher wife, Jenni, moved to Auckland in early 2000 after Hunter was appointed the Blues coach.



He knew of the illness before the season started, but launched into his new work before the medical clearance was given.



It was a season of only moderate success for a Blues franchise struggling to live up to past glory.



Hunter was then forced out of the job by the New Zealand Rugby Union because of his medical condition. They were tough times. But when fans and players reflect on the Hunter career and legacy, it will not be his brief stint in Auckland or even his work with the Highlanders and All Blacks that stands out.



Those free-wheeling days of his Otago team, especially when they sparkled away in the Carisbrook sun, are the strongest memories of all.



Gordon Hunter is survived by his wife and two daughters.