One of the greatest captains of the All Blacks rugby team Sir Wilson Whineray, who has died aged 77, was considered the greatest captain New Zealand had ever had, following an illustrious line that included Dave Gallaher, Jack Manchester, Charles Saxton and Bob Stuart. In Britain, he is best remembered by rugby union followers for a try that was replayed in grainy monochrome on many a winter’s afternoon on the Grandstand sports program on BBC television. Whineray was captain of the All Blacks for their final tour game against the Barbarians at Cardiff Arms Park on Feb. 15 1964.
On their final game of the tour, New Zealand, then as now without peer in world rugby, played an attacking brand of rugby that entranced the crowd. The last 25 minutes of the game produced 20 points and it was fitting that Whineray should score the final try of the tour, taking a pass from center Paul Little, before ignoring Colin Meads outside him to sell an outrageous dummy to the Barbarians fullback and touching down beneath the posts. Prop forwards were not supposed to do this back in the early 60s, and the score brought the house down.
In New Zealand Whineray was regarded as the greatest living All Black, and arguably the greatest sportsman of the second half of the 20th century, along with the cricketer Sir Richard Hadlee. He played 77 times for the All Blacks between 1957 and 1965, captaining them 67 times. Whineray played in 32 Tests and his try at the Arms Park was one of only two he scored for the All Blacks.
Born in Auckland, Whineray made his Test debut at the tender age (for a prop) of 21, against Australia in Sydney in May 1957. By the time New Zealand played the Wallabies the following year, he was leading his country, at 23 then the youngest All Blacks skipper in history. He played for six different provinces of New Zealand, making his name with Auckland. Whineray was fast and mobile for a prop.
“I think in my heart I was a loose forward,” he once said.
After retiring from the game, Whineray went to Harvard University in the US, returning to New Zealand with an MBA in 1969 and eventually becoming deputy managing director, then chairman of the Carter Holt Harvey wood products company.
He then held various offices, including chairman of the National Bank of New Zealand from 1998 until 2004. He was knighted in 1998 for his services to sport and business management. From 1993 until 1998 he was the chairman of the sports funding body the Hillary Commission and had a host of advisory roles in the game. In 2007 he was inducted into the International Rugby Board Hall of Fame.
Whineray had a host of admirers and no enemies in the game. The doyen of Welsh rugby writers, JBG Thomas, summed him up thus: “He was a modest, likeable man, with a smiling face and a quiet word of advice for his men. His high sense of diplomacy, sound tactical knowledge of the game and personal dedication and self-discipline earned him the admiration of rugby men everywhere.”