Finally, the 2019 Rugby World Cup is upon us. In the coming weeks the current crop of All Blacks will attempt to add to an ever-growing legacy and claim their third consecutive World Cup title, knowing their every move will be documented, scrutinised and remembered for generations to come. The Bay of Plenty has a proud history of producing tough, uncompromising and innovative All Blacks. Sports reporter David Beck takes a walk down memory lane with Bay of Plenty rugby historian and statistician Brent Drabble and picks the Bay's best ever All Blacks.
For years, we have watched the All Blacks take on the world in our national game. Described as the pinnacle of New Zealand rugby, there are 23 players who have worn the black jersey while affiliated with the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union.
The first was Andrew McLean, a flanker and fullback, who made his All Blacks debut in 1921, the first of his three matches for the national side.
Four of Bay of Plenty's All Blacks made their debuts for a second string side on the 1976 tour to Argentina. That year the All Blacks took about 30 players to South Africa but sent a second side, who still received full All Black status in the history books, to Argentina.
More recently it is Reporoa's finest Sam Cane with his name in lights, a man who will be pivotal to the success of the All Blacks at this year's World Cup. With 64 games for the All Blacks under his belt already, he is well on track to go down as the Bay of Plenty's greatest ever.
Bay of Plenty rugby historian and statistician Brent Drabble said it was near impossible to compare players from different eras but there were several from Bay of Plenty who stood out as the best.
"In the modern era it has to be Sam Cane but from the old days we had some special players. There were fellas like Bill Gray (11 games for the All Blacks). He was a legend back in his day - he was just one of those guys, he had that Māori flair, he had everything. In 1956 he was in the side who beat the Springboks in New Zealand for the first time," Drabble said.
"The next one has to be Hika Reid. When he scored that try in 1980 against Wales off a Graham Mourie pass as well as the try the year before in Australia, he became a legend in the All Blacks from this area."
Another standout was Frank Shelford, Drabble said. While not as well known as his second cousin Buck Shelford, Frank played 121 games for Bay of Plenty as well as 22 for the All Blacks. The start of his All Blacks career was eventful to say the least.
"They almost tore his ears off in 1981 against the Springboks (for the Māori All Blacks) in Napier. That performance was good enough to put him in the third test against them at Eden Park, the famous flour bomb test. It was a dramatic start but it's amazing what some bandages around your head can do.
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"They were all renowned for toughness in this area. I don't think I ever saw a soft Bay player, they were all tough as teak. I think it's just, especially in those early years, their upbringings from out in the country."
Drabble said fullback Greg Rowlands, who played just four games for the All Blacks in that 1976 tour of Argentina, was one of the Bay of Plenty's unluckiest All Blacks.
"He should've played for the main team a lot more than he ever got the opportunity to do. At that time he was playing some brilliant rugby and he was better than some of the guys the All Blacks selectors picked. They had their favourites in those days, from the bigger provinces."
He said Same Cane was setting the benchmark in the modern era.
"It's a pleasure to watch someone from our province get the exposure at that level. We're going to have someone up there with a huge number of test matches which we've never really had before.
"When you look at Sam, when he broke his neck in South Africa, in my opinion with that injury I didn't think he'd be back. When you see what he's done with the Chiefs this year and gone straight back into the All Blacks - it shows the measure of the man."
Close but no cigar
Drabble said there were several Bay of Plenty players who were unlucky to never get a call up to the national side.
"Graeme Moore played over 100 games for the Bay and he's our record try scorer, he scored 62 in 114 games, and he couldn't even get an All Black trial. He was one of the great finishers.
"There's others like Ron Preston, who played 152 games for the Bay. He was a very good first five and played for the New Zealand Māori. He did get four years of trials [for the All Blacks] but just couldn't make the grade. He played around the same time as Grant Fox."
Hika the hooker from Ngongotahā
One of the Bay of Plenty's greatest All Blacks, Hika Reid, with 40 games including nine tests, said from a young age he saw playing for the All Blacks as the pinnacle of New Zealand sport.
"I was brought up on a marae in Ngongotahā and always dreamed of being an All Black. Mark Taylor (27 games for the All Blacks) came back and played for Ngongotahā while I was there so all of a sudden I was watching an All Black.
"You could see the difference in their attitude. Of course John Brake became an All Black then as well. It made you realise you could become an All Black if you put your mind to it and made those sacrifices.
"When I talk about sacrifices, one of my coaches as a teenager was Massey Tuhakaraina - from a big family in Ngongotahā. I always remember he told me: 'you're a gifted player, you've got so much talent but you're a lazy bugger'."
Tuhakaraina suggested Reid joined New Zealand's territorial army, which Reid said "is the best thing I ever did".
"That made you realise how far you can take your body and it taught you discipline. I think I would've made it [to the All Blacks] without that but I wouldn't have made it as soon."
Remarkably, the first time Reid went to an All Blacks game was when he made his debut against Australia in Sydney in 1980.
In the second test in Australia, Reid became an instant legend when he scored a try from inside his own 22m. While it worked out in the end, that play went against everything his coach had told him to do.
"The coach Eric Watson was your typical southern coach which was always bums up and heads down. He always said 'I don't want anyone running off the back of the maul or ruck'.
"Of course, that was my strength and I ran from the back and scored that try. During the debrief the next day, Eric stressed 'I don't want anyone running off the back of mauls or scrums ... except Hika'."
Reid said he was envious of the freedom today's hookers, such as Dane Coles and Codie Taylor, were allowed to play with.
"I was frustrated back then because I played sevens, a lot of people don't realise I played sevens for New Zealand - I always felt I was a running, skilful forward. How the ball is used in the modern game, I wish that the forwards were up to the same level back then."
Reid also puts much of his success down to the support he received from John Crean who "mentored me after leaving school right through to All Blacks selection and saw my potential".
How will the 2019 All Blacks go?
Reid is confident the All Blacks are the best team at this year's Rugby World Cup but said that did not necessarily mean they would win.
"The All Blacks are a formidable team. The only thing that will unhinge us is the uncontrollable, the referees, the referee's decision, the weather. For example, the recent game when Scott Barrett got sent off - even a yellow card can cost a team so much especially at a World Cup."
He said while many were doubting England's abilities, the underdog status would play right into their hands.
"Everyone's talking about South Africa, Ireland and Wales to a certain extent but to me, the dark horse is England. They had such a pitiful performance at the last World Cup and they have been all under the radar. That makes them dangerous.
"There's a desire to regain their respect and I'm sure their coach Eddie Jones will be hammering that into them."
The Bay of Plenty stars of the 2019 Rugby World Cup
Bay of Plenty has a host of past and present players in action at this year's world cup.
James Lay, Jordan Lay and Kane Le'aupepe are in the Samoan squad, Zane Kapeli, Siegfried Fisiihoi and Samisoni Fisilau will play for Tonga, Tyler Ardron and Mark Roberts are in the Canadian squad and Sam Cane and Brodie Retallick are with the All Blacks.
Bay of Plenty Rugby chief executive officer Mike Rogers said it was great for the province to have so many players involved.
"We do have a really good Bay of Plenty connection and representation which is great. Obviously, first and foremost, any guys involved in the All Blacks is the pinnacle for us. Getting guys into the All Blacks is pretty special," Rogers said.
"But then, any time you get a player that has a connection to the Bay go on to represent their country, the coaches and staff as well, it's a pretty special feeling for us back in the Bay. I know we all get behind them and want them to do really well."
He said Sam Cane was setting a great example for the next generation of Bay of Plenty rugby stars.
"He's a pretty special individual and just the whole way he goes about it on and off the field, his leadership capabilities - obviously being an All Black captain and Chiefs captain - that demonstrates for both our male and female players the way they can operate and hopefully they can get the success he's had.
"He's just such a grounded individual. He is so passionate about Bay of Plenty rugby and every opportunity he gets, he's back over here, always willing to contribute. The fascinating thing is every time you have a chat to him, he knows what's going on in the Bay and he's genuinely interested in how we're progressing."
Bay of Plenty connections at the 2019 Rugby World Cup
Samoa: James Lay, Jordan Lay, Kane Le'aupepe.
Tonga: Zane Kapeli, Siegfried Fisiihoi, Samisoni Fisilau.
Canada: Tyler Ardron, Mark Roberts.
New Zealand: Sam Cane, Brodie Retallick.
Weekend World Cup Draw - Saturday, September 21 (NZT)
4.45pm: Australia v Fiji
7.15pm: France v Argentina
9.45pm: New Zealand v South Africa
5.15pm: Italy v Namibia
7.45pm: Ireland v Scotland
10.15pm: Wales v Georgia
Bay of Plenty's All Blacks
(Includes players who were members of the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union when they made at least one appearance for the All Blacks)
Bay of Plenty: 5 games (1922-23).
All Blacks: 3 games (1921-23), including 2 tests.
Bay of Plenty: 9 games (1920-23).
All Blacks: 29 games (1922-24), including 2 tests.
William 'Bill' Gray
Bay of Plenty: 59 games (1952-66).
All Blacks: 11 games (1955-57) including 6 tests.
Bay of Plenty: 26 games (1956-61).
All Blacks: 10 games (1960).
Richard 'Dick' Conway
Bay of Plenty: 72 games (1962-68).
All Blacks: 25 games (1959-65) including 4 tests.
Bay of Plenty: 89 games (1962-70).
All Blacks: 6 games (1967), including 6 tests.
Bay of Plenty: 122 games (1968-80).
All Blacks: 9 games (1971-72), including 3 tests.
Bay of Plenty: 36 games (1972-76).
All Blacks: 19 games (1974-76).
Bay of Plenty: 0 games. (Was affiliated with Bay of Plenty and the Ōtūmoetai Cadets in 1976 but was busy playing for the All Blacks that year and did not actually make an appearance for the province. However, his affiliation was enough for the official record keepers).
All Blacks: 56 games (1972-77), including 5 tests.
Bay of Plenty: 98 games (1973-81).
All Blacks: 5 games (1976).
Bay of Plenty: 161 games (1969-82).
All Blacks: 4 games (1976).
Edward 'Eddie' Stokes
Bay of Plenty: 129 games (1971-81).
All Blacks: 5 games (1976).
Bay of Plenty: 64 games (1973-78).
All Blacks: 27 games (1976-82), including 8 tests.
Bay of Plenty: 84 games (1978-1987).
All Blacks: 40 games (1980-86), including 9 tests.
Bay of Plenty: 121 games (1977-87).
All Blacks: 22 games (1981-85), including 4 tests.
Bay of Plenty: 124 games (1981-91).
All Blacks: 13 games (1983-84), including 2 tests.
Bay of Plenty: 18 games (1986-87).
All Blacks: 23 games (1981-86), including 4 tests.
Bay of Plenty: 35 games (1982-1989).
All Blacks: 81 games (1985-92), including 2 tests.
Bay of Plenty: 22 games (2003-05).
All Blacks: 1 game (2005), including 1 test.
Bay of Plenty: 84 games (2004-18).
All Blacks: 6 games (2009), including 5 tests.
Bay of Plenty: 77 games (2005-18).
All Blacks: 2 games (2009), including 1 test.
Bay of Plenty: 19 games (2010-present).
All Blacks: 64 games (2012-present), including 63 tests.
Bay of Plenty: 32 games (2012-19).
All Blacks: 22 games (2014-18), including 20 tests.
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