Former Maori All Black and Hawke's Bay Magpies 1960s Ranfurly Shield era hero Hepa Paewai died today.
Mr Paewai was diagnosed with cancer in late December, celebrated his 70th birthday on January 3, and died at his home surrounded by family, eldest son Nathan Paewai said.
The grand-nephew of youngest-ever All Black Lui Paewai, Hepa Paewai was discovered by Magpies coaching legend Colin Le Quesne as Te Aute College second five-eighth and was an 18-year-old from Dannevirke in his first season with the Magpies when he was halfback in the successful Ranfurly Shield challenge in which Hawke's Bay beat Waikato 6-0 in Hamilton in September 1966.
He was also in the team when it lost the Shield when beaten 18-11 by Canterbury at McLean Park, Napier, in 1969, part of a career in which he played 64 matches for Hawke's Bay in a provincial first-class career spanning 12 years to his retirement from representative rugby in 1977..
A New Zealand Maori representative at the age of 20 in a two-test series against Tonga in 1969, he was possibly only denied an All Black jersey by the world-class quality of those ahead of him, including 1960s star halfbacks Chris Laidlaw and Sid Going, and others of their understudies including 1970s All Black Lyn Davis.
Even in Hawke's Bay he faced strong competition for the jersey from Aidaan Thomas, from Taupo.
A high-quality shearer who was for many years a partner in the family shearing contracting business in Southern Hawke's Bay, he moved north to become also a stalwart of the Havelock North Rugby Club, where his funeral service will be held on Saturday starting at 10am.
Wife Kathy died about 20 years ago and he is survived by partner Kitty, his five adult children, and his grandchildren.