Former greats would match up well in the modern game - Fox

GettyImages 1916718

That's the view of former All Blacks first five-eighths and now selector Grant Fox on the All Blacks Podcast.


He told the All Blacks Podcast that seeing changes in rugby's structure there was still a 'kick-pass-run-tackle' approach in trying to score tries and kick goals.


"The athletes have changed and so has the way the game's played. The five-eighths have got to defend wider now. I made sure the Iceman [Michael Jones] was standing beside me because it wasn't the strongest part of my game, but that's just the way it is," he said.


It had been inevitable that when players devoted all their time to prepare to play, they would be able to get bigger, stronger and faster and, sometimes, more skilful.


There were still issues in the game, especially at the breakdown, but it did appear that referees were taking some of the heat out of the breakdown area, and good football was the result, he said.


Fox believed that while rugby had changed great players of the past would still have made their way in the modern game.


"You have to compare them with the era they were in: were they dominating, were they world-class, were they the best in the world? If they were in that era then you know damned well that with gym, do that for a living, lift weights, more time to do it they would be just as great nowadays," he said.

Still the leading points scorer in New Zealand first-class rugby, Grant Fox said his goal-kicking prowess developed from seeing Barry John in action with the 1971 British & Irish Lions.


Fox, who totalled 4112 points in 303 games, heads Dan Carter (3683 points in 287 game) on the national scoring list while being second to Carter (1598 in 112 games) in games for New Zealand (1067 in 78 games). He sits fourth on the Test points list behind Carter (1598 in 112 Tests), Andrew Mehrtens (967 in 70), Beauden Barrett (649 in 88) and Fox (645 in 46).


Before seeing John with his round-the-corner kicking style, Fox had followed in his father's footsteps of being a toe-hacker in placing the ball and kicking it with bare feet.


That hadn't been such a good idea in frosty conditions and cold feet, and numerous sprained toes were the result.


But when seeing John caressing the ball with his instep and being good at it, Fox's first thought was, 'that will save my toes'.


"I just copied that. I liked it," he told the All Blacks Podcast.


Fox dominated the first five-eighths position during the 1980s and until his retirement after the 1993 Lions tour. That era included two World Cups, the first hosted and won by New Zealand.


One of the reasons for New Zealand's win of the first Rugby World Cup in 1987, was due to the adversity the side faced in 1986 when two-Test suspensions were applied to participants of the Cavaliers tour of South Africa.


But ahead of the Cup, the selectors, Brian Lochore, Alex Wyllie and John Hart, had picked a fit group of players who knew how they wanted to play the game.



Yet, when the Cup started with the first game against Italy, Eden Park had been only half full, and no one knew what to expect.


"I think the thing that lit the World Cup was JK's [John Kirwan] try. The only person who could track him was Michael Jones. But we were touring in our back yard.


"It built in momentum as we got good results. We played good footy, culminating in the win against France," he said.


Fox recalled the first 50 minutes of the final at Eden Park had been a grind, and in the first half, they had a light wind at their back.


"It wasn't the perfect day but we were only up 9-3 at halftime, so we had a lot of work to do. Then Kirky [halfback and captain David Kirk] unlocked them and it was a bang-bang from the kick-off, two quick tries and that was the game sewn up as it took the wind out of their sails," he said.


But Fox said he had great memories of the semifinal between Australia and France. Everyone thought Australia would win, but France pulled out the sort of play they were capable of doing, and they had perhaps struggled to repeat that a week later.


At the same time, they had not been too far away, he said.



By the time the second World Cup came around, the All Blacks were struggling for several reasons, he said, while Australia was a team on the up, and they had dealt with New Zealand in the Dublin semifinal.


"We played England in the first game, and we put a hell of a lot into that game. Then, the next games were not supposed to be difficult, but we struggled against Italy. The quarterfinal was against Canada in the wet in Lille, so we were struggling, and Aussie on that day was better than us. But they had nearly lost the quarterfinal to Ireland.


"At events like that sometimes you need a bit of luck and Aussie had theirs against Ireland and were good enough to go on and clinch it, and we just weren't good enough," he said.


Fox said he was close to retiring after the 1991 World Cup. He had been copping plenty of criticism that was something which had not been easy to take, but it also hurt the people around him more than it did him.


But time away from the rugby environment had healed the pain, as well as a long-term niggle he had been carrying, and his love for rugby helped him decide to continue playing.


Part of the appeal had been playing against the Lions in 1993.


While the All Blacks had won the first Test, the Lions came back strong to win the second Test in Wellington.


"When we reviewed that Test, Martin Bayfield their big, tall lock, had cleaned us out in the lineout, so we had a strategy of not kicking the ball out and not giving Bayfield a chance. I remember saying to the forwards in the build-up to the game, 'you give me the ball going forward, and I'll give it back to you going forward'. A lot of that was just hoisting, not going long, just putting it up high and the strategy, I think, worked for us as they didn't dominate the lineout like they had the week before," he said.


The All Blacks had been down 10-0 early in the game but got their rhythm and won 30-13.


View all