As you'd expect, in a country where rugby still dominates the sporting landscape, the brightest stars of the Rugby World Cup through the years have been feted and honoured.
John Kirwan and Michael Jones, who lit up the first tournament in 1987, are now knights. So is Graham Henry, who coached the side to the 2011 title. Richie McCaw and Dan Carter have been eulogised in feature length documentary movies. "The Kick" was a film length television drama based on Stephen Donald's dramatic impact in the 2011 final, and a two-part mini series on Jonah Lomu, who stunned the rugby world in 1995 in South Africa, recently screened on TV3.
Kiwis pride themselves on living in an egalitarian society, so in that spirit here are my nominations for our unsung heroes of the World Cup, men who played vital roles without often being in the spotlight.
There wouldn't be many farmers in the Whakatane district that haven't bought a tractor from Dick Littlejohn's engineering firm over the last 50 years or so. But what even some of his customers may not realise is that without former All Black manager Littlejohn, and the work he did in 1984 with former Wallaby Sir Nicholas Shehadie, there would have been no World Cup in '87.
Australian writers called it the Nick and Dick Show, and when the pair set off to Britain early in 1984 the blizzard they faced when they flew into Dublin was barely more frosty than the reception they received from the stiff necked defenders of the amateur faith in the northern hemisphere.
Their first meeting in Dublin was cancelled. When they did finally sit down with Irish officials they were told a World Cup would shatter the amateur ethos of the game. In Edinburgh, Gordon Masson, the treasurer of the Scottish union, was as grim and forbidding as the rain swept granite his hometown, Aberdeen, is famous for.
"The World Cup will be staged over my dead body," he snarled. Shehadie didn't back off, and snapped back, "Then when the World Cup is held, don't bother coming."
In London, the English were reserved. But behind the stiff upper lips, Littlejohn and Shehadie, undaunted by opposition in Ireland and Scotland, sensed signs of support.
The crunch came on March 21, 1985 in Paris at a full meeting of the International Rugby Board. Support swayed back and forth after the 10.30am start. Ten minutes before an afternoon tea break at 4pm, the chairman, Australian Dr Roger Vanderfield, decided, in his words, "to bite the bullet. I'd had enough."
The votes were counted and it was 10-6 in favour of a Cup. The voting was officially a secret, but it was firmly believed Australia, New Zealand, France and South Africa were for the Cup. The wildcard vote that tipped the balance came from England. Littlejohn and Shehadie's mission into mostly hostile territory had paid off.
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Warwick Taylor and Joe Stanley
The All Blacks of '87 had speed to burn out wide, with wings John Kirwan and Craig Green backed up by fullback John Gallagher, a flying red headed Englishman, then working as a cop in Wellington.
The back three scored most of the tries, but the midfield of second-five Taylor, a schoolteacher at Burnside in Christchurch, and born and bred Aucklander, Stanley, then driving his own concrete truck, was at once a rock wall for attackers, and a polished, intelligent force with the ball.
Shortly after the Cup, John Kirwan told me that he thought when Stanley retired "people will suddenly realise just how great he is. I've always rated him as one of the best in the world, and the way he looks after his wings makes him a pleasure to play alongside."
It was Stanley, Kirwan noted, who often made the backline calls, and if things ever became overheated, it was usually Stanley who kept the coolest head.
Taylor was originally from Matamata, where he followed in the First XV footsteps of his older brother Murray, who was also an All Black. Warwick was a player cut from similar cloth to Stanley.
Kirwan marvelled at the precision Taylor brought to the field. "Second-five is such a demanding position, and Warwick handled it all brilliantly," Kirwan said. "Taylor's work ethic was always reflected in his kick chase, he's just as flat out following a kick as when he's running with the ball."
By shutting down opposing backlines, and setting free runners on the wings Taylor and Stanley provided the foundations for the '87 triumph.
In 1995 at No 9 for the All Blacks at the Cup in South Africa, Bachop appeared to be a walking contradiction, a shy halfback. Halfbacks are usually mouthy, cheeky, and determined to be the boss. A 1970s All Black Lin Colling once summed up a halfback's relationship with his forwards by saying "forwards are like sheep. You need to bark at them a lot, and occasionally they need a bite."
Bachop shunned the spotlight, and presented so seriously in public his nickname of Grim seemed appropriate. But in fact, if you got to know him, while he was quietly spoken, he was actually as quick and sharp off the field as his bullet passes were from the scrum or breakdown.
At first he was on the not wanted list for All Black coach Laurie Mains. An All Black since 1987, in 1993 Bachop didn't play a test.
But how much did Mains want Bachop in '95? Bachop had signed to a Japanese club, Sanix, but a handshake deal was struck with the Japanese so that after joining and training with Sanix, coached by 1984 All Black Mark Finlay, Bachop would be free to go to South Africa. So Bachop became the first All Black to play for New Zealand while a member of an overseas club.
As a halfback it helped that he had enormous strength in his wrists and hands. The All Blacks did a training exercise in which two men put their hands on a ball and tried to wrestle it away from each other. The only one in the whole team who could match Bachop was Zinzan Brooke.
Bachop's pinpoint passing, and rocket running with the ball in hand, gave the All Black backline a flying start, which, until they were upset 15-12 by South Africa in the final, made them the try scoring toast of the tournament.
When the All Blacks won in 2011, they had a secret weapon in the form of Gilbert Enoka, Bert to all in the team, a lanky, positive man with an easy manner and smile, who worked as a mental skills coach.
Enoka, in Japan now with the current side, had been around the All Blacks through the good and bad years. His own life reads like the darkest Grimm family fairytale. Born in Masterton with five older brothers, his father left the family while the boys were very young, and returned to his native Rarotonga. His mother was crippled, physically incapable of raising the boys. Until he was 12 Enoka shuffled between boys' homes. Back with Mum in Palmerston North he was rejected by Boys' High because, he believed, he was from the wrong side of the tracks.
Determined to make something of himself he started university at 16, graduated with a BA, represented New Zealand at volleyball, became a teacher, and then discovered his true calling, helping sports stars handle any mental demons that hindered their success.
Wayne Smith started using him with the Crusaders in the 1990s, and by 2011 coaches Graham Henry, Smith and Steve Hansen all swore by him. Enoka found triggers for every player to refocus. Brad Thorn tipped water over himself, and snorted like a Kaikoura sea lion, McCaw stamped his feet, while Kieran Read adopted a 1000 yard stare, gazing at a far away place in the stadium. When their rituals were finished they were thinking clearly again. Thorn later told an interviewer in England he was sure the All Blacks couldn't have held on to win the final 8-7 without Enoka's guidance.
An unsung hero in 2019?
Hopefully there will be a long list of candidates, but if I had to predict one, I'd lean to Sam Cane, who does so much of his best work in the dark, painful recesses of the breakdown. His play is not often spectacular, but talk to the men rubbing shoulders with him on the field, and they'll all agree his intensity is inspirational.
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