Bob Stuart

All Blacks captain of an old-fashioned kind
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The Independent Online

Bob Stuart devoted his life to rugby and achieved some of the highest honours in the game. He became captain of the All Blacks as a player and then, as an administrator, became a leading figure with the world game's governing body, the IRB (the International Rugby Board). It was under his leadership that the five-year plan that revolutionised the make-up of the IRB was hatched, ending in the late 1980s with its restructuring and the establishment of an executive council.

Robert Charles Stuart, rugby player and administrator: born Dunedin, New Zealand 28 October 1920; OBE 1974; died Wellington, New Zealand 11 May 2005.

Bob Stuart devoted his life to rugby and achieved some of the highest honours in the game. He became captain of the All Blacks as a player and then, as an administrator, became a leading figure with the world game's governing body, the IRB (the International Rugby Board). It was under his leadership that the five-year plan that revolutionised the make-up of the IRB was hatched, ending in the late 1980s with its restructuring and the establishment of an executive council.

If his strong guidance off the field left a lasting impression on the game around the world and back home in New Zealand, where he served 15 years on the Rugby Union executive, then his leadership qualities in the heat of the battle earned him the coveted captaincy of his country.

Having first played for New Zealand against Australia in 1949, when he was one of 13 new caps in a side deemed to be a third XV given that they played on the same day as the All Blacks played the third Test on their tour of South Africa, he then had to wait four years for his big chance. Those two home Tests against the Wallabies in 1949 were both lost and it wasn't until the New Zealand selectors were seeking a captain for their first post-war tour to Europe that they turned to Stuart.

Born in Dunedin, he was educated at St Kevin's College, then Massey College, an agricultural college near Palmerston North, and Canterbury University. He earned his first representative honours with Manawatu in 1941 before joining the Fleet Air Arm. He played for the NZ Services in Britain in 1943 and then had eight seasons in the Canterbury side after the Second World War. His first trial for the All Blacks came in 1948. He won the two caps against the Australians a year later and played for Canterbury against the 1950 Lions.

He faced the Lions with his brother Kevin at full-back and his cousin Jack Kearney at half-back. Kevin won an All Blacks cap against Australia in 1955, while Kearney played in four Tests on tours to Australia and South Africa in 1947 and 1949. Another brother, John, also played for Canterbury. But Bob Stuart couldn't force his way back into the reckoning for the All Blacks until 1953, when the selectors were looking for a strong leader to head the 30-strong party on a 36-match tour that involved playing in the four Home Countries, as well as France, Canada and the United States.

The team was away from home for six months and Stuart, who played in the back row in all five Tests, earned enormous respect for the way he led his men. In his book about the tour, Bob Stuart's All Blacks (1954), Terry McLean wrote:

Stuart personally revived great captaincy in New Zealand rugby . . . no finer leader of forwards could have been imagined. If his captaincy tended to emphasise caution at the expense of adventure, the general effect was such that tribute to his ability as a field captain of the old-fashioned kind could be made with utter sincerity.

While his side's playing record included four defeats and two draws, with losses to Wales and France in the Tests, they were a huge draw and won many friends off the field with their attitude to the sport. Stuart, along with the manager Norman Millard, visited schools spreading the gospel of rugby, sometimes even on the morning of matches.

An agricultural economist with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries during his playing days, Stuart later went on to become a director of the Vocational Training Council. He maintained his rugby links once he had hung up his boots, serving Canterbury as both coach and selector and working as a coaching adviser to the All Blacks in their historic first series victory over South Africa in 1956.

He served 15 years on the NZRU executive, for 12 of which he acted as a delegate on the IRB, and for a period was deputy chairman. He was made a life member of the Union when he stepped down in 1989. He received a special award from the IRB for his services to the game in Sydney at the end of the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

Rob Cole

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