CountiesManukau Sport Monthly Turns NPC Historical
by Wayne Watson - courtesy of Counties Manukau Sport Monthly
Counties Manukau rugby supporters have had a rocky run this season, riding every NPC bump the Steelers' have travelled. But 20 years ago it was different. Fifty-odd thousand spectators went to Eden Park on September 29, 1979, to watch Counties' famous challenge for the Ranfurly Shield. It came seven days after Andy Dalton's men had won the union's first and only national championship.
Mark Codlin darts down the short side after Auckland turn
the ball over inside Counties' 22m.
He dummys, fends off first five Lindsay Harris then kicks high into Auckland territory.
Outside backs Farrell and Cunningham misjudge
it allowing Counties flyer Paul Reilly to snap up the ball
on the second hop.
He looks right then jinks left before basketballing it to number six Henk Habraken who uses the referee as a shield to score.
"Try!," commentator Peter Montgomery screams - and he has to, to break the noise of a record 50,000 fans.
Habraken's try, almost 20 years ago to the day, ranks as Counties rugby's most memorable.
It was the pinnacle of a dream era.
Hiwi Tauroa's side had
claimed the union's first and only national provincial title
a week earlier and would have snatched the prized Ranfurly
Shield had they won at Eden Park that day.
Sadly, a Richard Dunn penalty near fulltime gave Auckland an 11-9 win, continuing a Ranfurly Shield jinx Counties have been unable to shake in 19 appearances.
That game, as much as it hurt, was the highlight of Counties' 1979 campaign.
For some, it rates as one of New Zealand rugby's most enthralling provincial clashes.
Two decades on, players
look back on that successful reign. They remember the guitar
playing, camaraderie and gut-busting trainings but memories
of that loss just won't go away.
It was only Counties' second defeat all year but the hype and importance of the Ranfurly Shield make it too hard to ignore.
Counties first five Brian Morris, a Mangere primary school teacher at the time, pauses before talking about it.
He was the man penalised for handling the ball at the bottom of the ruck, allowing Dunn to kick the winning goal.
Morris failed to gather in Alan Dawson's pass, after Dawson had shaped to kick, then decided to run.
"I never handled that ball," Morris (43) says today.
"I was on the side of it and never handled it."
The noise of the crowd made communication between players virtually impossible.
Morris admits he could not hear Dawson in that tricky moment.
"Henk could not hear me either when he got the
ball before he scored. I was only 10 metres away and was
shouting as much as I could.
"I remember charging up the middle as soon as I saw Moffy (Codlin) disappear around the scrum (sic). I knew he was going to kick. He had a great dummy...he should have been an All Black.
"He was a lazy trainer though. Malcolm Hood (physio-trainer) used to say he had two hates and the second was Mark Codlin at training."
Codlin: "It (run) was an instinct thing. I remember seeing (All Black great) Bryan Williams and I didn't want to run into him.
"I told him about it later though. There was no one outside me, I dummied to the sideline."
Habraken: "I remember chasing Paul Reilly and
thinking 'Christ, I wish I was as quick as him'. But it was
"When I got the ball I was going to sprint to the corner but then I thought about getting close to the sticks. I saw (Auckland centre Tim) Twigden was unsighted and partially impeded by the referee."
That game was only
one from an impressive string of 17 - and as far as
competition points went, it counted for nothing.
Counties were unbeaten in their opening nine national championship matches before meeting Auckland.
They cleaned out Wellington (20-15), North Auckland (12-6), Bay of Plenty (22-13), South Canterbury (26-3), Manawatu (16-9), Taranaki (13-10), Otago (17-10), Canterbury (7-0) and Southland (16-7) and were the only provincial side to beat Argentina.
Few remember the specifics of Counties'
struggle with the previously unbeaten Canterbury at Pukekohe
Stadium or the 18-11 win over Argentina three days
Mark Codlin peppering his brother Brett with bombs in the 7-0 win over the southerners or the forwards' strength in the slush just don't register for some.
Players do remember Canterbury All Black Alex Wylie being disgruntled with Codlin however, who continually whispered in his ear that he was too old.
Or what about lock Paul Tuoro's battle with Argentinian giant Alejandro Iachetti? Tuoro, in his first year of premier rugby, was dwarfed by Iachetti despite standing six feet six inches and weighing 120kg.
Ironically, Tuoro switched to rugby when he considered himself too short to play the position he wanted in basketball - a sport in which he was a New Zealand trialist.
He went on to gain a first-half points decision
over All Black Andy Haden in the Shield challenge, after
players gave him a "kick up the backside" to motivate him
before the game.
Habraken remembers that Argentinian game for a different reason. "GK (Graeme Taylor) put an attacking kick into the southern corner. (Argentinian great) Hugo Porta came back in cover but we were right on top of him, so he butted it out with his head."And this Maori supporter leaning against the fence yells out: "That's right Porta kick it with your head"."
Memories like those lob up after speaking to players for just a few minutes. They show a tight family-like unit and what playing for each other meant.
That team in 1979 was no fluke.
The core -
built around Bruce Robertson, Bob Lendrum, Taylor, Robert
Kururangi, Pat Yates, John Hughes, Andy Dalton (captain),
Dawson, Peter Clotworthy, Habraken, Warren McLean and Joe
Rawiri - had been together for up to six years.
Counties had proved their ability when finishing second in the two previous national comps and were worked hard by Malcolm Hood and coach Tauroa.
And they had flair.
brilliance at centre, combined with the strength of second
five and Ardmore partner Taylor, was complimented by the
finishing of Kururangi, Reilly, Lendrum and Yates.
Morris and utility McLean shared first five-eight, while cheeky Codlin played every national competition game. He finished the season Counties' top point-scorer with 91. John Allen was Codlin's deputy.
Of all the backline plays of that year, one incident - Bruce Robertson's injury in the Ranfurly Shield challenge - over-rules any other.
Robertson was replaced in the 12th minute when badly injuring his right knee.
He later had to withdraw from the All Blacks tour of the UK.
Most say that incident was
a turning point. "Of all the things you didn't think would
happen, that was it," Morris says.
"He was a key in everything we did. Bruce was the most popular centre in the country, if not the world. He was able to influence results."
"He was like a racehorse. His
defence was brilliant and he was so fast. Bob Lendrum was
the only one able to keep up with him. I used to call Bob
tubby and stuff but he was super quick."
Tauroa's decision to harness but not smother Counties' flowing style actually foxed some teams.
The Wesley College headmaster
rated his pack despite a lack of size and asked for a more
controlled style from that adopted by former coach Barry
Former All Black John Spiers: "We surprised a lot of unions in the forwards.
Hiwi wanted to keep it
tight because everyone thought we'd spin it."
Counties had strong forwards, with the exciting loose trio of Habraken, Dawson and Clotworthy rated the best in the country at the time.
Their class is further emphasised
with 1978 New Zealand Maori captain Mac McCallion unable to
find a run-on spot after leading Counties in a pre-season
match against Victoria.
They had Rod Ketels, Dalton (later to become All Black captain) and Hughes in the front row with Spiers - alternating between prop and lock - Tuoro and Rawiri completing the tight five. Colt Kevin Ashby was back-up hooker to Dalton.
Ketels: "We spent so much time on our scrum. One Wednesday night, we scrummed with three different teams."
Habraken: "Hiwi would have us doing 70 or 80 scrums up the hill at Pukekohe Stadium."
But it was needed, especially when asked to plough through Pukekohe's sticky mud.
"Opposition players would say their legs went in the last 15 minutes (when playing at Pukekohe)," Ketels adds.
"You could feel it in the scrums. That is probably why they (Counties officials) left it (ground) like that."
Malcolm Hood remembers Tauroa talking to him early
in the season: "He said we needed a running game because we
were smaller. He wanted to increase the skills and
Fullback Lendrum says players spent hours running up and down the field at training just passing a ball. "The skills in the forwards and backs were excellent."
Tauroa, who went north (and still lives there) after winning the national championship, is held in high regard by his players. They talk of his honesty, mana, respect and ability to relate to people.
Despite all that, Hood says Tauroa was also feared even though he was extremely quiet.
"If a player dropped the ball a couple of
times he wouldn't say anything but on the third occasion
he'd frown. You knew when you got that look."
Codlin: "We'd be having a few beers after the game and he'd be out in the stand thinking about what went on. He was unassuming but knew his rugby, he was very thoughtful."
Robertson: "He was a very honest person. He had great
respect by the way he acted. He didn't rant but when he had
something to say, people listened."
Robertson praised the part Hood played too. He labelled Hood an innovator, saying he was years ahead of his time.
Morris, who played for Manawatu in 1977 when they held the Shield, says Counties were more forward than other unions he played for.
did things like piggy backing players. Everything we did
(before training) was made to hurt and it worked in with
what Hiwi would do later."
Others jokingly look at Hood's 40-minute sessions before trainings (often three times a week) from a different view.
Dawson, Hood's close neighbour in Waiuku, would bury his head under a pillow when hearing a knock at the door on Sunday mornings.
"I'd have to go for a run with Malcolm while the rest of the boys were lying in after playing the previous day."
agreed with it: "Malcolm had to, Dawsy was always quick to
put it on."
Codlin, Spiers and Kururangi come up with snappy quotes when asked about Hood's on-the-field input.
"He loved his pound of flesh," Spiers says. Or as
Codlin delicately puts it - "he got on my nerves".
That close family unit of 20 years ago is the same today. They often bump into each other at a Counties Manukau game, though there has been the odd one who has slipped out of the scene.
So what are they up to now?
Spiers, who still
works as a wool buyer in Pukekohe, plays president's grade
football and continues to be a part of the Classic All
Blacks. He retired from representative rugby in 1982 after
149 games for Counties.
Ketels' involvement in rugby is restricted to being a player manager. He represents internationals Joeli Vidiri and Api Naevo.
Robertson is club rugby manager at Auckland Rugby. Lendrum, who retired in 1979 when 30, is still a maths and geography teacher at Papakura's Rosehill College.
Property developer Reilly (40) spends Saturdays cheering on his two daughters at netball and soccer, while Morris has five children and is a project director at Wellington's New Zealand Qualifications Authority.
Robert Kururangi, an apprentice mechanic in the army 20 years ago, is now in the building industry. He has four children.
Codlin went to France a day after the Ranfurly Shield clash. He was there for more than three years, playing rugby and coaching tennis. Today he works on the family farm at Karaka with All Black brother Brett.
Dawson, who has three daughters (oldest 18), works at New Zealand Steel. He was top side coach at Waiuku for four years, while Habraken mixes being a councillor at Franklin District Council with pig and dairy farming and a hobby horse training.
Tuoro, 43 and a father of two, plays president's rugby and helped coach the Manurewa under-19 side this year. Next season he will take over the Counties Manukau Maori colts.
Warren McLean finished playing for Counties in 1986. He could have improved his 110 games had he not stayed in England for 18 months after the 1982 New Zealand Maori tour. The 42-year-old, a father of two young girls, hopes to help Drury next year.
Dalton became chief executive at Medical Waste after retiring as an All Black in 1987. He is also the New Zealand Rugby Football Union president and is still active with the Classic All Blacks.
Peter Clotworthy lives on the North Shore, though he still has a business interest in Pukekohe, while Joe Rawiri works for a courier company.
John Hughes lives in Alfriston on a farmlet; Mac McCallion is a professional rugby coach; Graeme Taylor runs an outdoor pursuits company in Hawke's Bay; Kevin Ashby is a fire fighter in Manukau; Pat Yates works for a house removal company in Takanini and Malcolm Hood runs a couple of physio practices.
Twenty years does not seem that long ago after all.