WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand rugby was in mourning on Sunday after All Blacks great Brian Lochore died of cancer aged 78.
Lochore, who captained New Zealand in 18 tests during their golden era of the 1960s and coached the All Blacks to the inaugural World Cup title in 1987, died on Saturday, New Zealand Rugby (NZR) said in a statement.
“It is with great sadness and grief that we announce that Sir Brian succumbed to his battle with cancer,” NZR chief executive Steve Tew said.
“We have lost a genuine legend of our country, an unwavering figure on the field, and a highly respected figure off it. His family has lost a devoted husband, father and grandfather and for many of us, a great friend.
“It is not over-stating the facts to say that Sir Brian Lochore was the saviour of New Zealand rugby on several occasions and many of us have lost a great mate.”
Lochore had never played number eight before he was selected for the 1963-64 New Zealand tour of Europe but he made the position his own in 68 games in the famous black shirt, 25 of them tests.
He was appointed captain of the team in 1966 by coach Fred Allen ahead of more experienced players like Colin Meads and Kel Tremain and led the team through a long unbeaten run when they were regarded as the unofficial world champions.
Lochore retired in 1970 following a tour of South Africa but was called back into an injury-ravaged side for the 1971 test series against the British and Irish Lions.
He answered the call, of course, famously leaving a note for his wife on their refrigerator saying “gone to Wellington, playing the test tomorrow”.
After coaching success at a provincial level, he was appointed an All Blacks selector in 1983 and then coach from 1985-87, dealing with the fallout of a rebel tour of South Africa in 1986.
He stepped down after the All Blacks won the World Cup in New Zealand and Australia in 1987 but returned to the national selection panel in 2004 at the request of coach Graham Henry.
His rugby career was intertwined with fellow All Blacks great Colin Meads, who died in 2017 from pancreatic cancer, and New Zealand’s amateur provincial teams now compete for the Meads and Lochore Cups.
Lochore was knighted by New Zealand’s government in 1999 for services to the community and sport and NZR revealed in June this year that he had been diagnosed with bowel cancer.
Writing by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Rory Carroll