Strahan a key contributor in golden All Blacks era

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A few months earlier, Strahan had been selected on the basis of some outstanding play for Manawatu in a Ranfurly Shield challenge against the holders Hawke's Bay. Strahan wasn't in the winning team but he did enough to impress the chairman, and coach, of the All Blacks selection panel Fred Allen.

 

Faced with finding a lock to replace Stan Meads, who had decided he couldn't afford the time to go on the hastily scheduled replacement tour for the All Blacks to South Africa, Allen felt Strahan could be his man. He went on to play 17 Tests, and 28 other games for the All Blacks. Teammates included: (pictured) Waka Nathan, Brian Lochore, Colin Meads and Ian Kirkpatrick.

 

The New Zealand Rugby Football Union of the day had declined an invitation to tour South Africa in 1967 because there was no chance Maori players could be considered for selection.

 

After years of acquiescing to African demands the NZRFU had decided 'No Maoris, No Tour'.

 

A tour to Britain, Ireland and France was hastily arranged, but before that could take place the 75th Jubilee of the NZRFU was celebrated in Wellington with a one-off Test with Australia.

 

Strahan made his debut in that game, a match that signalled the start of the running game that Allen wanted his side's to play and which formed the basis of the later tour to Britain, Ireland and France. The All Blacks beat Australia 29-9 and headed on tour intending to play a highly mobile game.

 

Strahan quickly established himself as the locking partner for Colin Meads on the tour, and it was in the first Test, a 27-11 win over England, that Strahan was imprinted in the minds of New Zealand fans.

 

It was also the first occasion New Zealanders heard the dulcet tones of legendary Scots commentator Bill McLaren. He quickly became a favourite, and his slip-up in pronouncing the province that Strahan played for may have had a lot to do with it.

 

As the television camera panned across a lineout McLaren, in his broad Scots accent, observed that Strahan came from 'Man-a-waa-too' and it became a line forever linked with Strahan.

 

But the lock deserved to be remembered for much more than that. He became a cornerstone of the pack playing in all four Tests of the tour that should have been remembered as New Zealand's first Grand Slam tour. However, a foot and mouth outbreak in England resulted in Ireland's borders being closed and the Irish Test was cancelled.

 

He followed that with five Tests in 1968. Strahan was overlooked for the 1969 series 2-0 win over Wales when Alan Smith was preferred after Allen had stepped aside as coach to be replaced by Ivan Vodanovich, Strahan having the misfortune to be in a losing trial team that year.

 

However, he was included in the touring team to South Africa in 1970, and appeared in the first three Tests, the first and third of which were lost, the first losing All Blacks sides Strahan had been in.

 

He missed the 1971 season when the All Blacks went down to the British & Irish Lions 2-1 but played the three winning Tests against Australia in 1972. He didn't make the 1972-73 tour to Britain, Ireland and France but played his final season in 1973 which saw only one Test, the first win by England on New Zealand soil when they won 16-10.

 

Two other games were also lost, against the NZ Juniors 10-14 and the NZRFU President's XV 28-35 which doubled as a farewell match for Colin Meads, who led the President's XV.

 

In a time when lineouts were scrambling and repetitive affairs, Strahan offered something different with his ability to make high, clean catches, something that was especially invaluable on the 1967 tour when quality ball gave an attacking backline vital moments to gain an edge over opponents.

 

He was made a life member of his Oroua club in 2002 and president of Manawatu Rugby in 2003.

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