New Zealand rugby mourns AllBlacks great Sir Wilson Whineray

Getty Images     23 Oct 2012     Getty Images

Sir Wilson Whineray passed away peacefully at 3:20am today surrounded by his family at Auckland Hospital where he had been for the past month. He was aged 77.

New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) Chairman Mike Eagle said: "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.

"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.

"We extend our condolences to Lady Elisabeth and to their family as they remember a much-loved husband, a father and a grandfather," Eagle said.

Sir Wilson was 21 when he made his All Blacks Test debut in May 1957 against Australia in Sydney. He was quickly elevated to the All Blacks captaincy for the 1958 Series against Australia. He was just 23 and for a long time, he was the youngest All Blacks captain.

Sir Wilson played 77 All Blacks matches including 32 Tests, and he captained the side 67 times - a massive number of appearances considering the All Blacks played only two or three Test matches a year.

Sir Wilson's colossal career included being named New Zealand Sportsman of the Year in 1965. The following year he won a Harkness Scholarship to Harvard University where he studied for an MBA in 1967 and 1968.

He received his Knighthood in 1998 when he was made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to sport and business. In the early 1990s he was appointed the Colonel-Commandant of the New Zealand SAS Regiment - a position he held for five years, and one of which he was very proud.

In 2003 he was named Patron of the New Zealand Rugby Union and four years later became just the fourth person to be inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame.

Sir Wilson is survived by his wife Lady Elisabeth, one son, two daughters and five grandchildren.

The family thanked the staff at Auckland Hospital's critical care unit for their outstanding professionalism and care of duty while looking after their husband and father.

The family said: "Our father led a rich life filled to the brim with family, sport, business and the community. While he leaves a very big gap in our lives, we are blessed with many wonderful memories of him.

"We will always remember his energy and passion for everything he did and we remember one of his favourite comments was that he didn't regret a single day in his life."

Sir Wilson James Whineray
Born on 10 July 1935 in Auckland, Wilson James Whineray was schooled at Auckland Grammar School.

Whineray had a colossal record at All Blacks level playing in 77 matches between 1957 and 1965, including 32 tests in which he was captain in all but two - a massive achievement during an era when the All Blacks averaged only two or three Tests a year.

Whineray also had a distinguished career at provincial and first class levels. After leaving Auckland Grammar School, where he had played in the first XV as a halfback and No. 8, Whineray travelled the country as an agricultural field cadet.

Because of that, and academic studies at Massey Agricultural College and Lincoln College, Whineray played for Wairarapa (three matches in 1953), Mid Canterbury (nine matches in 1954), Manawatu (seven matches in 1955), Canterbury (16 matches in 1956-57), Waikato (seven matches in 1958) and Auckland (61 matches between 1959-66).

Whineray also played for the South Island (1957) and the North (six times between 1958-65), the New Zealand under 21s on a tour of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1955, the New Zealand under 23s as captain on a tour of Japan in 1958 and played in 15 All Blacks trials.

He was a member of one of the great Auckland sides in one of the most memorable Ranfurly Shield reigns in 1960-63. Whineray captained the Auckland side which lifted the shield from Southland in 1959 and it was another mark in his favour that he graciously agreed to play under the captaincy of Bob Graham from 1960 onwards after having been replaced, of necessity, in the post because of the All Blacks' tour of South Africa.

But it was as an All Black that he achieved his main fame. A fine player and remarkably mobile and athletic in the open, Whineray almost always played at prop but he was also effective as a loose forward occasionally at No 8.

Whineray was rarely bettered in future internationals and during the 1960s he was part of some champion All Blacks packs alongside other giants like Colin Meads, Kel Tremain and Ken Gray. Whineray was always assured of his Test place because of his rare captaincy qualities.

Whineray was first capped on the 1957 tour of Australia and after leading the under 23s became the All Blacks captain for the 1958 series against the Wallabies aged just 23.

He led the All Blacks against the 1959 Lions, to South Africa in 1960, against France in 1961, in the twin series against the Wallabies in 1962 and then in what was arguably the high point of his career on the 1963-64 tour of Britain and France.

The eminent critic Terry McLean, who was a staunch Whineray admirer, named his book on the 1963-64 tour in Whineray's honour. The title, 'Willie Away' came from the move from a lineout peel in which Whineray was a principal component.

McLean wrote of Whineray: "I would unhesitatingly acclaim him as New Zealand's greatest captain." Whineray deserves a special niche because he was the man who set the leadership standards by which everyone else could be judged.

Whineray missed the 1964 series against the Wallabies but returned in 1965 to lead the All Blacks to a series win over the touring Springboks. Of the 30 Tests he captained, they won 23, lost only four and three Tests were drawn.

Whineray had an astonishing try scoring ability scoring 50 at first class level, including a double in his first Test as captain against the Wallabies in 1958. The most famous of his tries was that against the Barbarians on the 1964 tour when he raced into the open and threw a dummy with the aplomb of a skilled three quarter.

Whineray retired from rugby in 1966 but continued to have a high public profile. He became a successful businessman including 10 years as chairman of the board of one of the country's largest companies, Carter Holt Harvey and serving on the boards of several other companies. He was chairman of the Hillary Commission and from 1980 he was on the Eden Park board of control and after serving rugby in a number of advisory roles he became the New Zealand Rugby Union patron in 2003.

Though never officially holding office in rugby at either provincial or national levels, he was always close to the game and in the early to mid70s he coached successfully at club levels with Grammar in Auckland (winning the Gallagher Shield) and with Onslow in Wellington.

For a period there were two (of five) Whineray brothers leading New Zealand national sides, for elder brother Bruce captained the national hockey team.