22 Oct 2012

All Black great Wilson Whineray dies

10:14 pm on 22 October 2012

Sir Wilson Whineray, regarded as one of the greatest All Black captains and a distinguished businessman, has died in Auckland. He was 77.

Sir Wilson died at 3.20am on Monday with his family around him at Auckland Hospital where he had been for the past month, and is survived by his wife Lady Elisabeth, one son, two daughters and five grandchildren.

He captained the New Zealand side 67 times between 1957 and 1965 - a period of All Blacks supremacy - and was admired by fans worldwide. A highly intelligent player and a level-headed leader, he was modest about his success, praising the calibre of the team.

"We had a lot of extraordinarily fine players that came about the same time - Colin Meads, Don Clarke, Kel Tremain, Ken Gray, Brian Lochore, Paul Little ... and any world team picked in those days - picked fairly - well, half the team would have been New Zealanders."

Born in Auckland on 10 July 1935, Wilson Whineray was educated at Auckland Grammar School before going on to Lincoln College where he took a diploma in valuation and farm management. He later completed a commerce degree at Auckland University and, when his playing days were over, attended Harvard University on a Harkness Fellowship and gained a Masters degree in business administration.

At 21, he made his debut for the All Blacks in May 1957 against Australia and in 1958 was appointed captain of the New Zealand team to meet the Wallabies. He remained skipper for seven years.

A prop, he played for six rugby unions in his provincial career, culminating in seven years representing Auckland and was captain when that team lifted the Ranfurly Shield from Southland in 1959.

His international career had begun earlier in 1955, when he toured Sri Lanka with the New Zealand Colts side. That was followed by a place in the Canterbury Ranfurly Shield side which beat the 1956 Springboks and in the first New Zealand Universities side when it defeated the tourists.

When he retired from top-level rugby in 1965, Wilson Whineray had played 77 games, including 32 tests, and was recognised for his high standard of leadership and play.

At the end of the 1963-64 tour of the British Isles when he scored the last of the All Blacks' eight tries against the Barbarians in Wales, the Cardiff Arms Park crowd rose in a standing ovation and sang For He's A Jolly Good Fellow in a tribute.

However, as Sir Wilson said years later, keeping a winning team focused is one thing - it's when things are going wrong and changes to the game plan have to be made that the captain earns his keep.

"You're haunted by the knowledge that if the decisions you make and change things don't come off, you're likely to be criticised severely for whatever you do.

"And I can tell you, I played games where we won well and were applauded mightily and the captaincy and the tactics were hugely praised, when in fact a baboon could've captained the team on the day - we were just so much superior to the other side."

Distinguished businessman

In 1965, Wilson Whineray retired from international rugby and was named Sportsman of the Year. He then turned his abilities to a business career at what became Carter Holt Harvey, rising to become a director and chair of the board before stepping down in 2003.

He was also director of a number of other companies, including Auckland International Airport and the National Bank. He continued to serve the interests of rugby, serving on the Eden Park Trust Board and became patron of the New Zealand Rugby Union in 2003.

He became Sir Wilson in 1998, a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to sport and business management, and was inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame and the Business Hall of Fame.

He had an egalitarian approach to life and business, believing that people should be helped to achieve and keep on achieving. His community involvement reflected that belief, with service on the Halberg Trust and the Dilworth Trust.

Great hero lost - NZRU

New Zealand Rugby Union chair Mike Eagle says New Zealand has lost one of its great heroes and the rugby community has lost a much-loved champion of the game.

Mr Eagle told Radio New Zealand on Monday that Sir Wilson is an inspiration for younger players.

"All All Black captains look up to Sir Wilson Whineray because he was one of the greatest, and after rugby he went on to bigger and better things in the business world. I think that people look to that sort of capacity amongst former All Blacks and ... that's probably what they aspire to."

Mr Eagle says Sir Wilson was a humble, quietly spoken and intelligent man who took the lessons he learnt as captain into the business world.

Bob Howitt wrote a biography about Sir Wilson in 2010 entitled A Perfect Gentleman and told Radio New Zealand that he was a modest person, but a strong leader and an outstanding rugby player.

"I don't think anyone else has ever been inducted into both business and rugby halls of fame - which just shows what an amazing man he was."

In a statement, the Whineray family said they would always remember Sir Wilson's energy and passion for everything he did.