Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Tomorrow night we farewell Carisbrook, one of the grand old venues of New Zealand test rugby.

Test match rugby was first played in Dunedin in 1905 against Australia but that battle was waged at Tahuna Park. Carisbrook had to wait until the 1908 clash against the Anglo-Welsh.

In the intervening 102 years there have many great test matches. The Springboks mauling the New Zealand front row in 1956, Don Clarke kicking six penalty goals to sink the 1959 Lions, Barry John extracting revenge for the Lions in 1971 by kicking (literally) Fergie McCormick out of test rugby and Bevan Wilson’s brilliant debut against the 1977 Lions are just four that readily spring to mind.

However if I had to pick a favourite it would be June 15, 1996, when the All Blacks walloped Scotland 62-31.

With the exception of Scott McLeod, who was filling in for Walter Little, this was arguably the greatest All Blacks team of all time:

Christian Cullen, Jeff Wilson, Frank Bunce, McLeod, Jonah Lomu, Andrew Mehrtens, Justin Marshall, Zinzan Brooke, Josh Kronfeld, Michael Jones, Robin Brooke, Ian Jones, Olo Brown, Sean Fitzpatrick and Craig Dowd (three weeks later, with Little back on board, this team produced the finest All Blacks performance I have ever seen in the 43-6 drubbing of Australia at Athletic Park).

The undoubted highlight of the Scotland game was the four brilliant tries scored by Cullen in only his second All Black test (he got three in his debut against Western Samoa a week earlier).

The other reason I fondly remember the match is because it was my (and Lee Piper’s) debut as a test match radio commentator. Our careers were brief.

My only playing experience at Carisbrook was for a slightly worse-for-wear Gore St Mary’s team in the 1983 South Island Marist tournament. We played for the wooden spoon against a West Coast team and our only claim to fame was hauling in former New Zealand fast bowler Brendan Bracewell, who was a barman at the pub where the team was staying, into our playing ranks.

My only contribution to the game was a long-range dropped goal attempt that ricocheted off the woodwork.

Years later Piper and I were discussing our Carisbrook experiences (he tragically lost all his Otago representative rugby photos in a house fire) and he was bemoaning his first experience on the ‘Brook as a 13 year old ball boy for the South Island Marist tournament.

He said how he was gutted to miss out on being selected for ball boy duties for the Christchurch Marist v Dunedin grand final, instead being landed with some losers from Gore in the play-off for last place. The only thing he could remember about the game was the Brendan Bracewell cameo appearance and a dropped goal that hit the upright from a long way out.

It’s a small world eh?


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