Southland All Black Soper dies

All Black Ack (Alistair) Soper, who played eight games in the black jersey and more than 100 times for Southland, has died in Invercargill at the age of 83.

Soper, a Northern Southland farmer, passed away on Tuesday, leaving behind a strong legacy both on and off the rugby field.

He played eight times for the All Blacks on their 1957 tour of Australia, had a stint with London club Blackheath in 1960-61 and helped Southland lift the Ranfurly Shield in 1959 in a 23-6 win over Taranaki.

As a young No 8 in the 1955 New Zealand under-21 tour of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), he was rated as the most likely to succeed at the highest level in a team that included Colin Meads and Wilson Whinerary.

But arguably his greatest services to New Zealand rugby was to Southland, where he became the first player to play 100 games for the province after debuting at the age of 17 in 1954.

Soper, whose father Clarence was also a Ranfurly Shield winner with Southland, remained involved in provincial rugby throughout his life and was Southland Rugby Union president in 1985 after retiring in 1966.

In 2001, Soper was awarded a Southland rugby life membership for his services to the club, joining his father who was also a life member.

Last year, Rugby Southland named its division one competition prize the Ack Soper Shield.

However, Soper was also passionate about the Southland community beyond rugby and was awarded the Southland District Community Service Award in 2004 for his work and voluntary contributions to the local community.

He was also a passionate supporter of the Southern Stings netball team.

"When you look at the calibre of these young women and how much they have managed to achieve in their lives, how can they fail to be an inspiration," Soper told the Southland Times in 2002.

Kevin Laidlaw, a former teammate of Soper, remembered him as a leader.

"He wasn't the type of player who would say a lot, but he would say 'follow me' with his actions. He was an 80-minute man, you could count on him playing 80 minutes,'' Laidlaw told Stuff.

"Off the field, he would do anything for you as well. You were always welcomed when you stopped in to see him on the farm [at Athol].''

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