Life is still about being part of a team

Former All Black Ian Hurst relaxes at his North Otago home. Photo by Hayden Meikle.
Former All Black Ian Hurst relaxes at his North Otago home. Photo by Hayden Meikle.
Ian Hurst in his All Black gear in the 1970s. Photo supplied.
Ian Hurst in his All Black gear in the 1970s. Photo supplied.

Ian Hurst is not a man for regrets - he is proud of what he achieved on the rugby field, proud of the business empire he helped build, proud of his school community, and proud of his family. Sports editor Hayden Meikle talks to the 1970s All Black and North Otago identity.


MEIKLE: How long has the Hurst family been in these parts?

IAN HURST: My grandfather arrived here at the homestead in 1928. My Dad was born here. My brother Doug and I are a third generation of Hurst partnerships, and we're fourth generation with my son Ben coming through.

HM: How important is that family base to you?

IH: It's part of the foundation of everything we do. It forms the frame of our existence, both in business and our values in life. It's very powerful. For us, it's also about being part of a small community. We're part of the Waitaki district but at the forefront of it all is our little Papakaio community. We all grew up and went to primary school here. I met my wife in primer one. A part of the responsibility of living in a small village is that you contribute to the village. We've all been involved in supporting the creation of the community centre, the tennis courts, the swimming pool, all those sorts of things.

HM: Were you a sporty kid, growing up?

IH: I was always pretty active. That's just the way life was. You walked and rode your bike, and activities at school were based around kicking or throwing a ball, or having a scrap with somebody.

HM: Did you have a sporting hero?

IH: I remember vividly when Ian ''Spooky'' Smith was a stock agent and he arrived at Mum and Dad's one day. He was a hero of mine. I actually went and hid. I was almost afraid to meet him. He'd just come back from South Africa with the All Blacks.

HM: Was there a moment, a flash of inspiration, when you had a rugby ball in your hands and you could see yourself as an All Black?

IH: Not really. It was just about hard grind, and a desire to improve. I was doing athletics and tennis. They were probably my favoured sports. But we had this hill on our property that was perfect for booting the ball up, and catching it when it bounced back down. My uncle, Sid Hurst, was also a stickler for ensuring you learned to kick with both feet. So I just did a lot of practice.

HM: Was rugby strong at Waitaki Boys' High School in the 1960s?

IH: It was very strong, yes. We had boys coming out on scholarship from the islands, and we had these massive players in the First XV. They were really heroes within the school. I was relatively light but I had a little bit of pace. My first game for the First XV was at fullback. I'd never played there in my life before, and I was spooked by the amount of space and the amount of responsibility.

HM: What was the highlight of your rugby career with Waitaki?

IH: We played in a quadrangular tournament in Hamilton. We had an outstanding team. Blondie Hunter, an All Black. Greg McGee, a Junior All Black. We won that tournament.

HM: Any half-decent First XV player these days has a pathway mapped out as soon as he leaves school. What was it like in your day?

IH: That used to be one of the great shames of First XV rugby. That's the cream of the crop. Historically, a lot of kids moved off to university, where so many players fell through the grating and got lost to the game. There was a massive loss. I used to talk to New Zealand Rugby Union people and tell them they must capture those players leaving school.

HM: What was the next stage for you?

IH: I decided to go to Lincoln. I did a year of practical, straight out of school, when I played rugby for North Otago. Then I went up to Lincoln, and played in what was a very tough Canterbury competition.

HM: When did you make your Canterbury debut?

IH: It all happened rather quickly. In 1971, I was selected to play for Canterbury Colts, and played a couple of games for them. Then I got selected for Canterbury B, and played a handful of games for them. Then I got picked for Canterbury. Then the All Black trials came along in 1972 and I went off to Athletic Park. It was the early trial and we had a good backline. Phil Gard, from North Otago, was with us. It was one of those games that went outstandingly well. I only really had a handful of first-class appearances under my sleeve. But I went in under the grandstand, they named the All Black team to go to the UK, and my name was read out.

HM: Your head must have been spinning.

IH: It was bizarre. Bizarre. All these heroes walking by - Ian Kirkpatrick and Bryan Williams. It was meteoric, really. That was the way trials were in those days. You got noticed if you produced a good one.

HM: Did you doubt yourself at any stage?

IH: I was still very young, and new to the game. I didn't have a depth of experience. Growing that personal confidence relied on having a series of good games. In hindsight, I would have loved to have had the opportunity to have been more mature, both mentally and physically.

HM: Was the All Black squad welcoming to a new boy?

IH: Tremendously. A large number of young players were coming through, like Grant Batty and Ian Stevens and Kenny Stewart. Then there was the old school of Alan Sutherland and Grizz Wyllie and Keith Murdoch. And Ian Kirkpatrick was a man amongst men. Amazing individual.

HM: You made your All Black debut in New York, of all places.

IH: Yeah. The locals we met would say, ''By gosh, you guys are supposedly the All Blacks, but you're white!'' It was the early days of American rugby. Most of the guys were second-string American football boys, using rugby as almost a social activity.

HM: Do you remember the first time you pulled on the All Black jersey?

IH: Before that, I remember when we went to get fitted out with our gear. The dress suit and gear bags and everything. That was a lasting memory.

HM: How did you enjoy that first tour with the All Blacks, in 1972-73?

IH: Sensational. That would be the most closely bound team unit I ever played within. Tremendous camaraderie. I formed friendships that continue to this day. It was a very special group of people.

HM: It was obviously a fairly controversial tour, with Keith Murdoch getting sent home. What are your memories of the incident?

IH: The whole thing is a tragedy. There was huge pressure on our manager, Ernie Todd. He also had some health issues. So I think, in the whole scenario, there were some blurred decisions.

HM: Did you know Keith well?

IH: He wasn't somebody that you got to know well. He was very much his own man. But he was one hell of a physical specimen.

HM: Who became your best friends in the All Blacks?

IH: Guys like Grant Batty, Bryan Williams and Ian Kirkpatrick.

HM: You finished with five test caps, with 32 games for the All Blacks in total. How did things unfold after that first tour?

IH: After the 1973-74 tour, we did the 1974 Irish centenary, then I broke my leg in 1975 playing for North Otago. That essentially put me out of the 1976 tour of South Africa. I think I had another trial in 1978, but I knew my body wasn't up to the standard required.

HM: Could you have been a better All Black?

IH: I think you can always be better. Absolutely. Would I have loved to have had the knowledge and coaching and support available today? Yes.

HM: Is there a modern equivalent to you? Who's the Ian Hurst of rugby today?

IH: It is so difficult to compare eras. The game is so vastly different in terms of physical presence and skills. I always wanted to be considered reliable, to ideally set up my outside players. I prided myself on my defence.

HM: Your best performance for the All Blacks?

IH: Against London Counties. You remember those games where everything comes together.

HM: Best team performance?

IH: When we played France in 1973. Just a brutally tough game in a foreign environment. The madness of French rugby.

HM: So you played for Canterbury for a while and then came back to North Otago for a while?

IH: I played four seasons for Canterbury. Then I played for North Otago through till about 1979 or 1980. I was only about 30. Life was starting to move on at that stage, with family and business and things.

HM: Has life after rugby been interesting?

IH: In some ways, life is still about being part of a team. I've never grown up from that, probably. I've always had this desire to be interested in business. A lot of the philosophies that are fundamental to creating a good team in sport can be directly flicked through into the business arena. Expectations and discipline and people management. It's been a really enjoyable ride.

HM: What sectors of business have you been involved with?

IH: Initially, I joined with Waitaki NZ Refrigeration, the Pukeuri works, and was under the mentorship of Farquhar McKenzie, the deputy general manager. He probably inspired me to get involved in some diverse businesses. I looked after a range of companies that Waitaki had invested in. Then I came home and Doug, my brother, and I ended up in a farming partnership. We continued that until the tail end of the 1980s, when farming in new Zealand was particularly difficult, with some political changes that had taken place. We were young guys that had stretched ourselves and we were in quite severe difficulties, financially. Our family then headed off to the island of Molokai, in Hawaii. That was with Brierleys, which owned a big property over there. We were there for three and-a half years. When we came home, we got into the aged-care sector. We grew our team and our interests and we are at the point where that is our dominant business interest.

HM: How many facilities?

IH: Dunedin, Timaru, Christchurch, Wellington, Havelock North and Cambridge.

HM: When did you and Gloria get married?

IH: 1973. The wedding had to be delayed after I was picked for the All Blacks. Gloria has been a sensational mother to our children, and an absolutely loyal and committed wife.

HM: How old are your children now?

IH: Ben is 36, Sarah is 35 and Kate is 30. We've got two grandsons and a granddaughter.

HM: I was at school with Ben and don't recall him being a star at a young age. Yet he went on to start at halfback for the Crusaders in a Super rugby final. How did he get there?

IH: He had a passion for rugby. Did he have that real physical presence? No. But he had a desire to play the game. He also went to Lincoln, and was fortunate to meet up with a Waitaki old boy called Alan Edge, who was coaching Sydenham. He was also a halfback - a feisty wee bugger, who is quite a personality. He took Ben on board and worked with him. The club team was outstanding, and Ben got dragged along with them. Ben's game developed from there.

HM: Were you at the 2000 final, when Ben helped the Crusaders beat the Brumbies in Canberra?

IH: Yes, we went over to that. I was more nervous watching him than I ever was playing a game myself. But it was awesome.

HM: Do you still watch a lot of rugby?

IH: I'm still an observer of the game, definitely.

HM: Any other sports interests?

IH: I still play tennis. And golf has become quite a passion. I play at Lower Waitaki, off a seven at the moment. That competitive edge never leaves you.

HM: No regrets?

IH: None. I've been absolutely blessed.



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