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Choking up on humble hero memories

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Emotions are a strange phenomenon liable to bubble over at the most unexpected times.
I know because this week I experienced a rush of emotion that filled my eyes with tears which threatened to drip into my wine glass and ruin the delicate bouquet of a good pinot noir.
The unleashing of such raw emotion was inspired by a passage in an excellent second-hand book I devoured on the weekend titled A Lucky Man, penned by sports guru and commentator Keith Quinn.
It recounted a moment in rugby time that had tugged at the heartstrings of “Quinny” or KQ as he is also known many years ago when he was in Wales to call a rugby match involving the New Zealand Maori All Blacks.
Being an unabashed supporter of Welsh rugby, along with a devotion to our own New Zealand rugby sides I was a sitter to get emotionally involved with the story anyway but throw in the name George Nepia and that was assured.
You see George, that wonderful rugby icon and man, was a guest in Wales for that particular match and KQ wanted to get alongside him for the camera to add another dimension for viewers back home.
He had no inkling that even with the passage of many decades the rugby mad Welsh would be able to identify with Nepia, let alone identify the man himself as he walked with KQ in front of the stands in Swansea. Recognition was made even harder by the fact the weather was far from tropical, a not unusual happening in the Land of Our Fathers, and Nepia, then aged in his late 70s, was decked out in every available heavy coat, woolly hat and scarf he could find.
But, not only did the eagle-eyed Welsh recognise the mighty Nepia, hero of the 1924 Invincibles, but they rose as one to give him a thunderous ovation as the two passed by.
That alone brought a lump to my throat but there was a deeper, underlying reason why I choked up and I swear it had nothing to do with being well on the way to draining the wine bottle.
George Nepia was the nearest thing to God in the eyes of my dad, who in turn was the nearest thing to God in mine.
He was a rugby fanatic who had been an impressible youngster playing what would now be termed JAB rugby when that incredible rugby team of ’24 set sail for Britain to embark on a gruelling tour of the British Isles, France and Canada.
Would you believe that was a tour of 32 games and young Nepia played in all 32 matches.
I say young Nepia because George was only 18 officially when he joined the tour party, although in later life he maintained he was in fact, only 16.
Whichever, the history books record Nepia was the star turn of the unbeaten All Blacks, a gifted runner, a wonderful kicker and a crash tackler.
His spiralling punts broke the heart of opposition forwards who beavered away gaining ground only to have a Nepia kick drive them back to beyond where they had started, and what’s more he could bounce the ball out with inches to spare.
No wonder my father retained a special place in his rugby heart for Nepia.
He never got to meet George, unlike myself who was able to briefly speak to the old hero on two occasions, both in Masterton.
The second time was on the street, outside the old Post office when I came across George wrapped up against the winter cold and exchanged a few words of greeting.
He was a particularly humble man, shy you could say, but he had about him a presence which was immediately felt by all who met him.
And he could sing too, who can forget his television rendition of Beneath the Maori Moon?

1 COMMENT

  1. Hi , I had spent many hours listening to George Nepean telling me of his life as an Allblack.

    I used to visit my Grandmother who lived at 136 Cornwall street Masterton and George lived a couple of houses up near the Railway Crossing.

    I had a signed book he have me but have lost it over the years.

    He was a really good mate to me when I was a young boy.

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