RIP Jack Hazlett 1966-67 All Black

21 December 2014

I believe a website like this should offer obituaries and comments on every All Black who passes away. Recently I wrote about the passing of the 1949-50 Wanganui winger Peter Henderson; this one is for a Southland hero who was tough and rugged and part of a great All Black forward pack of the 1960s.

Edward John ('Jack') Hazlett. All Black 1966-67.

Thinking back, the first time I can recall having seen Jack Hazlett play he was taking part in a game I have never been able to ever forget. It was on a Tuesday afternoon at Athletic Park in Wellington on May 31 1966.

The game was the final trial for selection for the All Blacks for the upcoming four test series with the British Lions team. On the same day in Brisbane the Lions' team was continuing their unbeaten tour, beating Queensland by 26-3. (A couple of days later they wound up the 8-match section of their trip Down Under by beating Australia 31-0.)

In New Zealand therefore there was considerable discussion about how good the Lions team was - and what a tough, tight series the All Blacks might have against them. That of course made the All Black trials that much more competitive.

The team's great captain Wilson Whineray had retired after the Springboks had been turned back by 3 tests to 1 the previous year. Against the 1965 'Boks the All Black forwards had been massive; they had Whineray there of course, plus the Meads brothers Colin and Stan, Kel Tremain, Ken Gray, Brian Lochore, Bruce McLeod and Richard 'Dick' Conway.  No room for anyone else. Only the replacement for the retired prop forward Whineray.

The other slight snag was the return of the previously injured flanker Waka Nathan. He had missed the whole of the series against South Africa but just 'could notbe left out in 1996,' said the sports writers of the day. That meant that on that Tuesday, the popular 'Red' Conway was dropped back to captain the 'Rest of New Zealand' team.

No one, apart from the 'Rest' players have ever said what skipper Conway might have said to his team in the dressing sheds but if it was along the lines of 'right-o you blokes, I've been dropped, and maybe none of us are in line to get into test rugby this season - but - let's get bloody stuck in and see how good these hot shot All Blacks are!'

It must have been something like that because right from the kickoff the Rest team, especially the forward pack, played like wild men. Into the action they charged; with men like Alastair Hopkinson, Alex Wyllie, the wild-looking prop from Southland Jack Hazlett, and 'Red' Conway leading the way.

Also there was a young man from tiny Featherston Robert Meadows.  The giant of a lad was given the onerous task of marking Colin Meads at lineout time. The great Meads told me that one of the All Black selectors 'had tipped him off' that Meadows was after Pinetree's spot in the test team. Meads was having none of that. Early in the game a cold-blooded fight broke out and Meadows copped a blow to the nose which left it so bloodied and broken that consideration of him playing on was immediately out of the question. He was guided away from the field by the Officer's of the St John's Ambulance.

That then was when I then noticed Jack Hazlett. For the remaining minutes of action he never took a backward step and neither did Wyllie, Hopkinson and co. The fighting and brawling continued - and the 1966 All Blacks were eventually given probably their toughest workout of the decade. New Zealand won 26-17 with the Auckland referee John Pring having to stop and warn players for fighting all the way. But I can remember to this day how - let's face it - how dirty the game was. And how much Jack Hazlett relished that kind of action.

In reviewing the rugby story of Edward John Hazlett, I wonder if that far off trial and it's style defined him on the national scene. One thing is for sure; it did not in a Southland sense as the family name had been prominent in sport there, especially rugby and racing, for decades.

Within days of Hazlett's effort for the Rest of New Zealand, if that wasn't enough, ten days later he again led, in a fiery manner from the front, his beloved Southland team when they faced the unbeaten Lions in their first tour game in New Zealand.  In another bitter match this time Southland won by 14-8; Hazlett being so good he played his way from a maroon jersey into a black one for the first test.

All Black scholars when they study New Zealand rugby in the 1960s must consider the 1966 test pack one of the best ever. For a start the squad did not alter at all over four games against the Lions - so it was able to play as a great hunting pack, bashing, battering and bettering their opponents in every game. Hazlett was a comfortable and leading part of that effort and the next year it was logical he would play in the only home test against Australia. Within a few further weeks of that fixture he was chosen for the 1967 All Blacks tour of UK and France.

But from then on, according to those who were on that northern tour the excellence of Hazlett who propped on the loose head side, slipped badly.  Some said his playing form down-slid into a serious loss of attitude and form. For a while his storming runs caught the eye of the media; the commentator Bill McLaren on TV, in his delicious brogue called him '15 'stawns' (stones) of balding Jack Hazlett' and out in New Zealand we loved hearing that description. It became a catch-cry of mimicry.

But the eminent Kiwi writer Terry ('T.P') McLean in his tour book could not put a finger on why the Hazlett of 1966 could not, on the tour, match his playing form of a year earlier.  Perhaps it was because Brian Muller and Alastair Hopkinson were on the rise and Hazlett therefore had to compete for a test spot over the excellence of Ken Gray?

Yet something happened in the eyes of the tour selectors anyway, and after playing at Twickenham against England when Gray was injured Hazlett became a kind of forgotten man with that All Blacks team - not playing a test match again and only a few of the mid-week games.

He was not even used in 1968. Having missed the call up for the tour of Australia, even when a replacement prop was needed, they went for someone else (the little known Tony Kreft of Otago). It was surprising to New Zealanders in general that this happened to him; I for one was very surprised; It really made an impression on me the rugged way he tore into the All Blacks for that 'Rest of NZ XV.

Southlanders on the other hand have never forgotten how good he was for them in so many ways.

In all Hazlett played 87 games for Southland spread over nine seasons. He played 111 first-class games in all.  He had four consecutive years as a member of the South Island teams. He had 6 tests and 12 games for the All Blacks. In life he was a hugely successful businessman too and deeply regarded in the import-export world.

Jack Hazlett died in Southland on December 16 2014 aged 76.

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