Ernie Todd has been criticised, mostly privately but sometimes publicly, for being a poor manager, for being weak and not firm enough with some of the players. Yet he has also been criticised for being too firm to the point of being irrational — such as warning Keith Murdoch as early as after the flight from Auckland to the United States that he could be sent home if he transgressed again.
Todd also showed courage and selflessness that is not often acknowledged. He first made it public that Murdoch was going home at the hurriedly convened press conference in the Strathallan Hotel in the Edgbaston area of Birmingham on the Monday morning. He said the decision was entirely his, although he had been in contact with both British and New Zealand officials.
Back in Wellington two months after the tour, he told the annual meeting of the NZRFU the same thing. "It was my full responsibility and I do not accept the point of view that outside influences were brought to bear," he said. "If I faced exactly the same situation again I would make exactly the same kind of decision."
He and just three other people in the room knew that not to be the whole truth. He took responsibility — carried the can — during the remaining nineteen months of his life for a decision that was not his alone; in fact, it was one that was forced upon him. The other three in the know and who kept their secret were the chairman of the New Zealand union, Jack Sullivan, his deputy, Ces Blazey, and the union secretary, Ray Morgan.
But years later, it was revealed he had said in a private tape recording to his wife Pat: "... on three or four occasions he's been in trouble and ... John Tallent ... he virtually
demanded that I send him home."
A London stockbroker, Tallent was chairman of the Four Home Unions Tours Committee.
Pat Todd made the recording public in 1979, five years after her husband's death, because "Ernie had the right to have the truth about the affair known".
There was another person in the know. Joe Karam, an All Black on his first tour, formed a bond with Todd through both being members of the Marist St Pat's club in Wellington.
Karam recalled that both before and after the sending home, he and Todd frequently had a quiet chat together. Karam said there was no indication before the Welsh test that Todd was unhappy with Murdoch or that there were any problems with him. 'The first I knew was when Ernie told the team that Keith was going home,' Karam recalled.
Later, the tête-à-tête between the two men continued and it was at one of these meetings that Todd told Karam the real story.
"He told me he was virtually ordered to send Keith home or the tour would be called off," Karam said. "He told me that in private. He didn't say it to the rest of the team. It was just in conversation with me."
The influence and standing of the man who did the ordering, Tallent, in world rugby should not be underestimated. It certainly would not have been then. He had reached that stage in life that if he said something, people listened; if he wanted something, he would invariably get it.
John Arthur Tallent, 61 years old when the All Blacks toured, was the senior statesman of the rugby establishment. He was almost a living blueprint of the archetypal British rugby administrator. He'd been to the right school (Sherborne in Dorset), he'd been to one of the right universities (Cambridge), he'd been in the right regiment (the Honourable Artillery Company in the City of London) and, of course, his rugby pedigree was impeccable: Blackheath, Kent, Barbarians, East Midlands, England.
He finished World War II in 1945, aged thirty-four, with a military OBE and the rank of lieutenant-colonel. Before he became a stockbroker in the City of London, he'd taught and been the rugby master at Stowe, an independent school of distinction in Buckinghamshire. He was president of the Rugby Football Union in 1959–60, a season that encompassed the 50th anniversary of Twickenham, and he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). Inevitably, he also became an England representative on the International Rugby Board.
He was well known to senior New Zealand rugby figures: a familiar face at receptions, dinners, matches and any other functions on All Blacks tours. He had the soldier's upright stance, the trim moustache the same colour as his greying hair, and he spoke what is known as 'proper' English — what some people might call posh. He was a personal friend of Ces Blazey, who was rightly regarded as one of the best administrators in world rugby and whose attention to detail and honest dealings were valued by the British.
Blazey on London trips often dined with Tallent and his wife Helen, who was an American. On one occasion in 1977, Blazey had a meeting in the afternoon with the New Zealand High Commissioner, Doug Carter, a former farmer and Member of Parliament who could be the most convivial of hosts. The meeting overran the intended time and Carter in his official car with its "NZ1" registration delivered Blazey to a dinner appointment with the Tallents.
"The next day," Blazey later wrote to Carter's deputy, Denis McLean, "I was not so sure that what had been a very pleasant few hours was such a good idea after all."
One of Helen Tallent's friends, Denise Robins, a prolific romantic novelist who wrote under many pennames, referred to Tallent as "Tally" and called him "one of the most charming men I have ever known".
He certainly had that easy charm of English men of his age and type, but it could be put in abeyance when he thought the occasion demanded it.
Jack Sullivan was as much a product of his upbringing as Tallent was of his, if superficially opposite. Sullivan had been born to a Scandinavian mother (she had a Norwegian mother and Danish father, though was born in Palmerston North) and an Australian-born father in the remote Taranaki town of Tahora.
He went to Raekohua School (15 pupils when Sullivan was there in 1926) because he had to and left, probably also because he had to, in order to help the family income. He found work as a grocer's assistant and a carpenter's labourer while he also found his rugby feet, playing for King Country Schoolboys before a move to the Tukapa club in New Plymouth.
A fast and shrewd second five-eighth or centre, he played for Taranaki first in 1934 when he was nineteen and became an All Black for the series against South Africa in 1937, during which he established a lifelong association with the South African vice-captain, Danie Craven.
Sullivan gained a job as a tanker driver with the Caltex Oil Company after he'd toured Australia with the All Blacks in 1938. He was a foot soldier with the 22nd Battalion in North Africa, where he fought Germans and Italians and played rugby against South Africans and Brits. Leg wounds in both the fighting and the rugby led to the end of his playing days and, after the war, he embarked on a long career in coaching and administration.
While he rose in rugby, he also rose in Caltex and success in both fields took him and wife Mary to Wellington, where Sullivan became managing director. After coaching the All Blacks (including against South Africa in 1956 and 1960), he joined the NZRFU inner sanctum in 1962, becoming chairman in place of Tom Morrison in 1969.
Sullivan, like Tallent and Blazey and others of that era, was a man of his word; there was no need for lawyers or memorandums of understanding or heads of agreement or any of the other extraneous paraphernalia and bureaucracy of modern rugby.
The words were plain, unvarnished with jargon and left no doubt about what was meant. Agreement would be reached by a shake of the hand, and nothing more needed to be said or done.
Sullivan gained a bad press because of the continuing controversy over contact with South Africa and his discomfort at being questioned by journalists, especially when a television camera focused on him. He became known for reading official NZRFU statements, the wording of which had been agreed by all councillors, but refusing to comment beyond them.
"No comment" could have been a nickname for him. He cared deeply about the welfare of New Zealand rugby and knew its image was being harmed by events which he saw as being beyond his control (although others saw it differently).
Publicly, he came across as stern, almost humourless, but privately he was affable and typical of his type, courteous and well-spoken and happy to reminisce into the night over a beer or a gin and with an ashtray handy.
A younger brother, Colin, had played on the wing for Taranaki and had an All Blacks trial, and an older brother by eight years, George, had been a national athletics champion and rugby referee (with the fourth test against the British Isles in 1950 among his credits).
These two men then, Tallent and Sullivan, disparate and alike at the same time, were the two who controlled the fate of Murdoch and the tour.
Since Murdoch's "offence" did not take place on the field of play, there was no laid-down disciplinary procedure to follow; no hearing at which various parties could state their cases before a rugby bench, which would then make as learned a judgment as it could.
Five years before, after Colin Meads had been sent off in the test against Scotland, a disciplinary panel sat two days later and suspended him for two games. He was not allowed to state his case. At the following International Rugby Board meeting, in 1968, Blazey argued strongly that an accused must be allowed to have a say, so the law was amended. But it applied to only on-field offences.
A tours agreement, as the document was generally known, was usually drawn up between the host and touring unions and covered all manner of issues and possibilities. A generic tours agreement was under consideration at the time of the 1972–73 tour.
It had been agreed in principle at a meeting of the International Rugby Board in Edinburgh in June 1972, when the two New Zealand delegates were Blazey and the North Auckland union (as it then was) chairman, Duncan Ross, who was a lawyer and long-serving NZRFU council member. A draft was then circulated to member countries and Blazey
responded with comments which were discussed by the Four Home Unions on the day Ian Kirkpatrick's team arrived in London. (The timing would not have been coincidence. The meeting would have been arranged because the committee members would have been in London anyway to welcome the All Blacks.)
The tours agreement was not a contentious document. Blazey's comments were along the lines of whether the words "tour" and "team" should be capitalised. He said they should not; the committee secretary, Albert Agar, replied on October 31 that the members wished to retain capitals for words "included in the Definitions".
This was hardly crisis meeting material. Agar remarked in the same letter to Blazey: "Just a brief note to let you know that the Tour [his capital] has got off to a tremendous start. Everyone is most impressed with Ernie Todd, who handled the press conference
extremely well. It was a gruelling few days for them in London and I think they were relieved to move out to Gloucester and get on with it. And get on with it they did — a magnificent game."
The agreement included the provisions for foul play and misconduct on the field as amended after the Meads sending off. Under a section in the agreement called "common form conditions" (something like a schedule to an Act of Parliament) there was this paragraph: 10. Discipline. The manager shall have power to send home any player whose conduct may, in his opinion, have rendered such player unsuitable to continue as a member of the team. The cost of sending a replacement of such player returned home shall be at the expense of the visiting union. A full report of the circumstances under which a player has been sent home shall be submitted by the manager to the union and the visiting union.
It is likely that the IRB and Four Home Unions had this included after the Australian hooker, Ross Cullen, was sent home in 1966. The "Discipline" paragraph was not mentioned in the October exchange of letters between Blazey and Agar. There was no mention in the agreement of what role, if any, the Four Home Unions would or could have in the sending home of a player, and such an omission implied it was solely within the manager's power.
Todd surely knew that a verbatim recording of a conversation between Sullivan and Tallent existed in the NZRFU headquarters in the Huddart Parker Building in central Wellington.
It was able to be recorded verbatim because Sullivan repeated Tallent's words and Morgan, who was sitting alongside, was able to write down both sides of the conversation. Blazey, a stickler for accuracy to the point of pedantry, was also present and able to check the transcript.
The conversation left no doubt that Tallent was responsible for Murdoch's going.
Tallent and Sullivan had first spoken on the Monday (Monday morning in Wellington, Sunday evening in Cardiff) and Tallent said he would follow up the call with a cabled report of what happened at the Angel hotel, or at least a version of it, and what the views of Tallent and the Four Home Unions Tours Committee were.
(The Four Home Unions Tours Committee was a body drawn from each of the British and Irish unions charged with organising incoming tours to each country, and with organising Lions tours. Entirely amateur, it was first convened in 1930 to organise the British Isles tour of New Zealand and Australia.)
On the Wednesday afternoon, Sullivan arrived at the NZRFU headquarters in the Huddart Parker Building, the prominent Chicago-style, six-storey building on Post Office Square and Jervois Quay.
The union then occupied parts of the ground and first floors with a permanent staff of just two. Sullivan met his deputy, Blazey, by arrangement (he worked in a senior position at the nearby AMP insurance company) and called in the union secretary, Ray Morgan.
Sullivan said he needed to call Tallent again and asked Morgan to write down everything that was said, and with Blazey to confirm the accuracy. Sullivan would repeat what Tallent said so Morgan could get both sides of the conversation.
Sullivan got Tallent on the line at 4pm Wellington time (3am UK) and told him the promised cable had not been received. He needed to report to his council two days later, on the Friday, and wanted to confirm the conversation of the previous Sunday. Tallent agreed to outline what had been said.
Morgan's transcript read: Can I quote you to Council as saying that the team was undisciplined? Answer — Yes.
That if Murdoch did not go home the tour was in jeopardy? Answer — Yes.
If Ernie did not make the decision to send Murdoch home he was in jeopardy? Answer — Yes.
Tallent added that as an alternative to Murdoch not going home he would have requested a change of manager. Asked to enlarge on this, Tallent stated that he would have called a meeting of the FHURUTC Committee to decide that this should have been done. Tallent went on to say that the police guard involved in the incident had appeared on their television and had said "now Murdoch was going home he would not take any civil action".
[The word "police" in the typed transcript was crossed out and replaced with a handwritten "security".]
Tallent stated that Ernie was a most charming man well liked, but in his view he felt that Ernie finds it very difficult to discipline the team.
Sullivan asked what needs to be done to allow the tour to function smoothly from this point on. Answer — Tallent stated that nothing needs to be done now. He thought Murdoch was the trouble maker and should now let things go on as regards the rest of the tour.
Sullivan asked, "What are we doing wrong — their press are very anti — what is the problem?" Answer — Tallent stated bad language and untidyness [sic] of dress.
Sullivan said, "You were to send a cable spelling out the problems."
Tallent said, "Now that this has been resolved let it quieten down."
Sullivan asked, "Would he and Ernie be having a talk?" Tallent said "Yes."
Sullivan told Tallent that he had spoken to Ernie and that Ernie was upset by press reports re misbehaviour off the field and that Ernie did not accept that this behaviour should be criticised.
Sullivan said, "to recap the whole position once more and to confirm the telephone conversation of two days ago, was this the position?"
Unless Murdoch went home the tour was in jeopardy? Answer — Yes.
If Murdoch did not go home the Manager was in jeopardy? Answer — Yes. They would ask for a replacement of the manager.
Tallent said he was first of all told by Todd that Murdoch was going home, then the team travelled to Birmingham and after arrival there Todd had informed him that Murdoch was not being sent home.
Tallent confirmed that with him at the time were Harris and Agar, in answer to Sullivan's question. [Ken Harris was treasurer of the Welsh union and an International Rugby Board member; Albert Agar was the Four Home Unions Tours Committee secretary.]
Sullivan stated that he was delighted Tallent had kept his views out of the press and we have done the same.
Tallent stated that he thinks now it should not be put into writing, although he had agreed to send a cable before.
Sullivan told Tallent that in the public view, the New Zealand Rugby Union Council, and he personally, were being accused of over-ruling the manager to send Murdoch home.
In closing the telephone conversation, Sullivan told Tallent he was sorry to ring him at such an early hour in the morning, but he was most anxious in view of the council meeting on Friday to once again specifically confirm the text of the telephone conversation which he had held with Tallent on Monday.
In summary, the transcript shows: Tallent in the presence of Harris and Agar must have phoned Todd in Birmingham and told him Murdoch had to go or else; Tallent and Todd must have agreed to keep quiet about the Four Home Unions' influence; both the NZRFU (in the person of Sullivan) and the FHU (Tallent) agreed to say nothing publicly, thereby leaving the burden entirely on Todd and Murdoch and, by extension, Ian Kirkpatrick and the rest of the players.
Abridged extract from Murdoch: The All Black Who Never Returned by Ron Palenski ($39.99 RRP), Upstart Press.