"One of New Zealand’s tallest kauri has fallen" - Sir Brian Lochore passes away

By Jamie Wall

All Black legend Sir Brian Lochore has passed away surrounded by family after a battle with bowel cancer, aged 78. 

NZ Rugby Chief Executive Steve Tew said “It is with great sadness and grief that we announce that Sir Brian succumbed to his battle with cancer, earlier today.  We have lost a genuine legend of our country, an unwavering figure on the field, and a highly respected figure off it.  His family has lost a devoted husband, father and grandfather and for many of us, a great friend.

“It is not over-stating the facts to say that Sir Brian Lochore, was the saviour of New Zealand rugby on several occasions and many of us have lost a great mate. Our hearts go out to Pam and their children.”

Steve Hansen said, "It’s with great sadness that we have heard that one of New Zealand’s tallest kauri has fallen."

Lochore was one of the last of the old breed, a number eight in the All Blacks who carved out the team’s ruthless legacy of the 1960s. He was one of the most special too – the captain who led the side on a run of 17 test match wins over five seasons, only surpassed by their 2013-14 All Black counterparts.

Like all great All Blacks, Lochore has his famous story of dedication to duty. Unlike Red Conway, who amputated an injured finger to make a tour, or Colin Meads, who played on with a broken arm, Lochore’s famous chapter is simply one of putting pen to paper.

He had retired in 1970, after suffering the only losses as skipper of the All Blacks on their tour to South Africa. However, a year later saw the British Lions threatening to take their first ever series on New Zealand soil, so the selectors desperately sent Lochore a request to play in the crucial third test at Athletic Park. The Wairarapa man left a note for his wife on the kitchen table that simply read, "Dear Pam, gone to play the test in Wellington."

It wasn’t the fairytale that it should’ve been, though. The then 31-year-old Lochore couldn’t stop the Lions grinding out a 13-3 win that helped them win the series 2-1.

However, that wasn’t his last association with the All Blacks, not by a long way. After the 1986 Cavaliers debacle, in which all but two of the All Blacks snuck out of the country to play a rebel tour of the then banned South Africa, Lochore was tasked with putting together a new team that would be dubbed the ‘Baby Blacks’. In a 2015 interview with clubrugby.co.nz, he described the challenge he faced as the team’s coach:

“Thirty-three All Blacks were banned from playing the test because they went on the Cavaliers tour to South Africa the previous year. We had to pick from what was left and we had ten debutants. In those days you couldn't assemble until three days prior to a test. The first training session was on a Wednesday and it was a disaster. We had to put name tags on the players. By Friday, I thought this team is okay.”

Lochore’s side, full of newbies, memorably beat France in a two test series. A year later, he was in charge of the All Blacks against France once again, yet this time the stakes were far higher. It was the first ever World Cup final, held at Eden Park. Lochore had prepared the team by taking them to the Wairarapa and putting them to work on local farms, in a way to connect the players to the community and instil an old-fashioned work ethic. It worked, as the All Blacks swept through the tournament and thrashed the French 29-9 in the final to become the first ever official world champions. He returned as manager for the 1995 World Cup, in which the team looked destined to emulate their 1987 predecessors, only to go down to the Springboks in the final.

His standing in the community, not only in rugby but also in farming, saw him involved in many committees while he also served a term as chairman of the national sports funding organisation, the Hillary Commission, and his contribution to New Zealand across all fields was acknowledged in 1999 when he was knighted and he received the country's highest honour, the Order of New Zealand in 2007. 

Lochore was a giant on and off the field. You could feel his mana, whether it was being on his team even just walking past him on the street. Like his great teammate Colin Meads, part of an old era of New Zealand has gone with him.