The death of Sir Wilson Whineray yesterday, at the age of 77, has seen numerous tributes to the long-serving All Black captain and businessman.
And the warmth with which he is remembered is mirrored in an interview Diana Wichtel conducted two years ago, upon the publication of a biography – a biography, it seems, he didn’t read.
Here’s an excerpt:
The book is a tribute, a rugby book that evokes a long-gone New Zealand and circles respectfully around its subject. Whineray never countenanced a tell-all.“To do a good book you’ve got to open yourself up a bit, really, and I didn’t care to do that. Despite my exterior, I’m probably a bit reclusive on the interior.”
When we meet, he has yet to read his life story. “I said, ‘No, I don’t want to read it. I’ll get all uptight and go away and hide.’” He got fellow former All Black John Graham to take a look. “I suppose Colin Meads is my closest friend, in the soul … But John Graham is more like me than any other player I played with … I respect his judgment on things. He said, ‘No, it’s fine, Willie, it’s good. It’s okay.’”
Reticence is in the DNA, perhaps. “I come from North of England, Scottish and Swedish stock, none of whom will use six words if they can get away with four.” An elderly Yorkshire relative once gave the young All Black captain advice on dealing with the media. “He said, ‘Tell them nought about yourself. If they persist, tell them to bugger off.’”
A perfect gentleman, Whineray doesn’t tell me to bugger off. He does say, with the air of one bracing himself, “You fire ahead when you’re ready.” Well, you have to ask. The book skates lightly over such controversies as the protests, including during Whineray’s reign, against the selection of “white only” teams to play against South Africa. Whineray became captain of the All Blacks at the tender age of 23 in 1958. The tour of South Africa was in 1960. “It was the tour you wanted to go on. A tough tour, a hard tour physically … You might have to wait 10 years for the next one.” The controversy didn’t really register. “I can remember in Wellington, the night before the trials, being woken up. There were a group of people marching in the street. There weren’t a hell of a lot. It was ‘No Maoris, No Tour’ and tooting and banging things. I thought, ‘God what’s all this about?’”
Read Diana Wichtel’s piece in full here.