Thinking and talking about rugby every day for 50+ years
13 January 2015
This story is part of folklore at the Barbarians Club in Auckland, New Zealand. It is one which shows that even in the middle of a feisty rugby test match a mother's pride will still come shining through!
Back in 1930 an excellent Wellington forward Hugh McLean made the All Blacks team to play Great Britain in the third test. No one was much surprised at this as McLean had been in excellent provincial form in recent seasons and two years earlier his strength and sporting capacity had carried him into a New Zealand rowing eight. That crew was bound for the Amsterdam Summer Olympic Games. Sadly they didn't make it as funding eventually was not on hand for such a large group of men to travel so far at one time.
But 'Hughie' got his chance in 1930 to play for the All Blacks. His debut was to be on Eden Park in Auckland.
When the team assembled beforehand and McLean was handled his hallowed black playing kit he expressed surprise that he was to wear jersey number 13. His reluctance was not because of any superstition. That number had not been allocated for him in that day's match programme or in the morning newspaper. In the centre pages he was down to pull on number nine.
But you see, seniority within the All Black team ranks played its part. The crusty veteran W.E. ("Bill') Hazlett of Southland had an apparent aversion to wearing the 'unlucky' number 13. So Hazlett claimed number nine and the new kid was 'told' to wear 13.
Whether this actually bothered Hugh is not known but when the game kicked off it could have been the reason he played so superbly. The young forward in fact dashed in for two tries as New Zealand won 15-10 and took a decisive lead in the series. As the action went on everyone watching soon started talking about the new forward in the All Blacks and how well he was playing. Those were days well before TV of course so even the keenest of All Black fans only had newspaper photos of players faces to go by. Therefore the crowd soon started calling out in praise of the great game which was being played by 'Number nine Hazlett! Go Hazlett!'
Sitting in the grandstand that call irked no one more than Mrs McLean - Hugh's mother.
When her son scored his second try on his test debut she could stand it no longer. When the cheering was dying down the redoubtable Mum rose from her seat. She turned to face the crowd and in her most commanding, if not demanding voice, shouted out to all and sundry - 'That's not Hazlett! That's my boy Hughie!'
That was it! McLean went on to play for the All Blacks until 1936. Was it just desserts that after that season was over Hazlett never donned any All Black jersey again!
1 September 1956
The All Blacks win in Auckland, thus taking its first ever test series v South Africa - at last!
On a dramatic day at Eden Park NZ wins 11-5 and takes the 4-test series by 3-1. Peter Jones scored a try and made a great radio speech. He was 'buggered,' he said!
The famous Scottish rugby commentator, a man who set standards in the art of television commentary which, in the end, gained him worldwide acclaim.
Raised in the Scottish border town of Hawick, where he was a teacher all his working life, young McLaren was a good enough player to earn himself a Scottish trial in the years immediately after his service in World War II. However illness struck him down and during a lengthy stay in hospital he began broadcasting over the hospital radio system.
On his discharge and unable to play anymore he took to rugby commentary. From his beloved Mansfield Park in Hawick he started on a career at the microphone that was to last more than 50 years. His first international call was on radio for a Scottish Districts game v South Africa while during the 1951-52 tour.
His reputation grew quickly and by 1953-54 he was commentating Scottish test matches from Murrayfield. He recalls how that same winter the BBC sent him to Cardiff to observe the great New Zealand radio man Winston McCarthy in action. Bill tells the story of being amazed at how excited McCarthy got during a game. ‘At one stage he nearly fell forward out of the commentary box. I had to hold his coat to keep him in the box!’
The big change for McLaren came in 1959 when, though continuing to be a shcoolmaster, he changed to working part-time for BBC television. For the first time TV commentary of rugby was turned into the unique form it is today. No more endless verbiage as required in radio description, instead an attention came to identification of players by face and number; there was explanations given of refereeing decisions; plus identification of the placement of the game on the field. And most uniquely to McLaren, entertaining background and statistical information about the personalities in the game. The man himself filled large sheets of background notes on every player taking part in every fixture he worked on. The ‘sheets’ became sought after souvenirs and sometimes were auctioned for charity at rugby dinners.
McLaren lived by his attention to preparation; he often told budding broadcasters ‘the secret of good broadcasting is never to neglect your homework.’
He did all his work to perfection and became a huge personality in the game. It was all done with a gentle Scottish accent and cheerful attitude to life which was admired with affection all over the world. His influence over all things was perhaps summed up by one Scottish player, lamenting a narrow loss one time in the Five Nations Championship. Said the player, ‘aye, we’d have played much better if Bill McLaren had been commentatin’.’
Bill continued at the microphone until he was close to 80 years of age. He retired from BBC TV in 2002 after exactly 50 years of international broadcasting. The reaction to his departure was amazing, with much media coverage in press, radio and TV and, of course from his many fans around the world who had learned much more about rugby because of his lifetime’s commitment to it.
Who captained the All Blacks at the 1991 Rugby World Cup?