Sir Wilson Whineray: The All Blacks' longest-serving captain


Sir Wilson Whineray, who died of cancer in Auckland on 22 October at the age of 77, was acclaimed by many as the All Blacks' greatest captain. He played 77 matches for New Zealand, including 32 Tests, and captained the side 67 times.

A tough, loose-head prop forward, he made his All Blacks Test debut in May 1957, against Australia in Sydney, and was quickly elevated to the captaincy for the 1958 series against Australia. He was only 23 and for a long time he was the youngest All Blacks captain until he was overtaken by Sean Fitzpatrick and Richie McCaw.

Whineray's career encompassed those of other great players such as Colin Meads, Brian Lochore and Kel Tremain, and the team he led in the early- to mid-1960s is still regarded as the best All Blacks line-up of all time. Whineray modestly declared, though, "A baboon could have captained that team – we were just so much superior to other sides."

Some thought Whineray to be a better leader than he was scrummager, but Colin Meads defended him, observing that it was "hard to recall a time when our scrum suffered because of any weakness." On the 1964-64 tour of the northern hemisphere, the All Blacks perfected a move known as "Willie Away", in which Whineray would peel away from the line-out to receive the ball in a half-back position in order to set up attacks in midfield.

It was at the end of that tour that Whineray scored the try for which he is best remembered. It was against the Barbarians at Cardiff Arms Park on 15 February 1964, and the tourists were rampant with their attacking style of rugby. They scored 20 points in the last 25 minutes, and Whineray went over for the final try, taking a pass from the centre, Paul Little, missing out Meads before selling the Barbarians full-back what was at that time a most unproplike dummy and touching down beneath the posts.

Wilson James Whineray was born on 10 July 1935 in Auckland into a sports-loving family. His elder brother Bruce went on to captain his country at hockey. Wilson went to Auckland Grammar School, like many of his fellow All Blacks down the years, and made his Test debut when he was 21.

Whineray also had a lengthy first class career, representing the Waikato, Auckland and Canterbury provinces. He retired in 1966, gained a business degree from Harvard and went on to a stellar business career, chairing the boards of some of New Zealand's largest companies. He was a patron of the New Zealand rugby union and a head of its rugby foundation, which promotes the development of the sport.

His popularity was such that he was tipped during the 1990s as a possible future Governor General, the representative of the Queen in New Zealand. He was knighted in 1994 for his services to sport and commerce.

New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key paid tribute to Whineray: "Sir Wilson was a great All Black and may have been the greatest captain we ever had. This is a loss all of New Zealand will feel."

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