New Zealand rugby great Wilson Whineray, who captained the All Blacks 67 times between 1957 and 1965, died in Auckland early on Monday morning. He was 77.
Judged by renowned rugby writer Terry McLean as the greatest of All Blacks captains, Whineray was a mobile prop with the handling skills of a back who played in a much-feared pack alongside Colin Meads, Kel Tremain and Ken Gray.
In total, he played 77 times for the All Blacks, including in 32 tests - a remarkable tally in the days when only two or three test were played each year. New Zealand lost only four of the 30 tests played when he was captain.
After retirement from the game in 1966, he studied on a scholarship for an MBA at Harvard University before forging a successful business career. Whineray was knighted in 1998 for “services to sport and business management”.
“Today is a very sad day. We have lost one of New Zealand’s great heroes and for the rugby community we have lost a much-loved patron and champion of rugby,” New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) chairman Mike Eagle said in a news release.
“Regarded as one of the great All Blacks legends, Sir Wilson also made significant contributions to the community through his work with sport, charities and business.”
Whineray made his international debut in 1956 and only a year later, at the age of 23, was made captain, scoring two tries against Australia in his first match as skipper.
“At the time I thought I was a pretty average kind of captain, but as you go on and learn from the experience, the mistakes, you learn from them and how to improve,” he once said in an interview with the Times.
“By the time I finished I was a useful captain, largely because there was nothing that could happen on the field that I hadn’t had to deal with in an earlier game.”
The highlight of his career came when he captained the 1963-4 tour party to Europe, where only a scoreless draw against Scotland denied the All Blacks a Grand Slam.
The trademark move for the tourists became “Willie Away”, where Whineray peeled off the lineout and functioned like the scrumhalf he had been as a schoolboy to set up attacks in midfield.
He was the first player from rugby’s most successful nation to be inducted into the International Rugby Board’s Hall of Fame in 2007.
Whineray’s only official biography was entitled “Perfect Gentleman”.