Wednesday, 20 January 2010

There’s a long-held festive tradition in my family. I buy my brother beer, he buys me old rugby books. He never tires of beer and I never tire of old rugby books.

However, whilst the same brand of beer suffices each year, a double-up of books does not. All of which makes his buying decision more difficult each festive season.

This year’s more-than-generous offering of books numbered eight. Five of them, Laurie Mains, Change of Hart, The Best of McLean, Winter of Discontent – the 1977 Lions in New Zealand (by T P McLean) and Lions 77 (by Keith Quinn) were already resident in my extensive library and will be passed on to other needy souls.

Of the others, Glory Days – The Canterbury Shield Team 1982-85 is a little gem. The Mark of the Bull (Bull Allen’s biography) is a new addition but one I could easily exist without. The absolute treasure in the trawl is Mexted – Pieces of Eight by Alex Veysey.

Unlike Bull Allen, who was a character but an All Black of modest proportions, Murray Mexted was a great All Black. And if you had any doubts about his rugby pedigree or place in All Black history, Mex’s book left you in no doubt of his greatness!

As a nation we’ve had a love-hate relationship with Murray since he burst on to the international stage with a sensational solo try against Scotland at Murrayfield in his test debut in 1979. The polarizing personality continues to this day, in his role as a television commentator.

Myself, I’ve always loved the flamboyance of Mex. He played the last of his 34 consecutive tests in the 21-21 draw with Argentina in 1985 and it was fitting that also bowing out on that day was Andy Haden, a man whose All Black career astonishingly dated back to 1972!

Haden and Mexted were pioneers. Rugby nomads in the days before professionalism, traveling the world plying their trade, with neither afraid to rock the boat and challenge the rather stodgy amateur administrators of the day.

Of particular interest to Southlanders are Mexted’s memories of three of our finest loose forwards - Ken Stewart, Leicester Rutledge and Ash McGregor. Stewart he held in the absolute highest regard, right alongside the great Graham Mourie. I could not find any mention of Rutledge, perhaps because they only played three tests together against Australia on the ill-fated 1980 tour.

In McGregor’s case, I don’t think Mex ever forgave Ash for taking his spot on the 1978 Grand Slam tour, describing him as “a diligent Southland type” who “through no fault of his own - was simply not a number eight for international rugby”.

The book finishes as it began – colourfully - with the back fly-cover featuring Mex jogging off into the distance in his powder-blue Stubbies, staring lovingly into the eyes of his running partner, Miss Universe 1983, Lorraine Downes.

You’ve gotta love the eighties and the number eight who dominated a good part of a fascinating decade!


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