One of New Zealand’s great Rugby players, Waka Nathan has died.

I remember watching him play when I was at school in the 1960s. He played for Otahuhu, Auckland, and the All Blacks with fellow All Black, Mac Herewini. In those days, he was a breakaway or loose forward. One of the really great players of his time.

He was a member of the All Blacks tour of Britain in 1963-64, despite having a broken jaw, where he scored 11 tries in 15 matches and earned the nickname Le Panthère Noir – The Black Panther – from the French. The NZ Herald.

in one period, he played 14 games for the All Blacks for 14 straight wins. In those days, there were fewer games than in modern times. Players like Meads and Nathan would only play 30 international tests In their career.

Waka Nathan in action for the All Blacks during the 1962 tour of Australia. Photo / NZ Herald

Inevitably, comparisons are made between the teams of the 1960s and the teams of the modern era. The picture above shows Nathan is not as strongly built as modern players.

If he was standing next to Richie McCaw, they would be about the same size, but McCaw would be 20 kg heavier. If Waka’s teammate, the legendary Colin Meads was standing next to Brodie Retallick, Meads would be slightly shorter, but Retallick would be 20 kg heavier.

The game has changed also. It’s much faster and there is greater continuity as a result of the ball staying in play much longer. The players need to be much fitter and much stronger. They are also full-time, well-paid and professional. Colin Mead was a farmer with his brother Stan who locked with him in the All Blacks. They played rugby on over the weekends.

Waka Nathan. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The NZ Herald Reports a famous incident

Nathan is well remembered for scoring a last-minute try against Canterbury to set up his teammate Mike Cormack to convert the try and retain the Ranfurly Shield in a game that finished 19-18 in 1960.

I was at that game. What the NZ Herald does not report was that Waka had given away a free kick straight in front of the posts to put Canterbury ahead 18 -14. In those days, you got three points for try and two for a conversion. Auckland needed a converted try in the dying minutes of the game to retain the Ranfurly shield.

I remember seeing Waka standing, defiant and glaring at the Canterbury kicker. it didn’t work.

After the game, in an interview with the press, Waka said, (words to this effect) “I knew I had to do something about this, otherwise we were going to lose the shield.”

The Ranfurly Shield was the only game in town, so this was a big deal.

The Ranfurly Shield was the major rugby competition in New Zealand between the provinces.

The province that held the shield, had to defend it every time it played, but you only got an opportunity to win the Ranfurly Shield when you played the province that held it. The opportunity came around rarely.

In the 1960s, Auckland, my side and the side Waka played for, Auckland held the shield for a record 26 matches between 1960 and 1960.

Losing the shield on this particular day was the worst possible thing that could occur in a rugby-playing teenage boy’s life.

By some miracle, the Gods of Rugby smiled on Wake Nathan that day and he entered rugby immortality, well, he was forgiven for conceding a penalty in front of the posts in the final minutes of shield defence.

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