A different world of All Blacks
July 1, 2011
The 1935-36 New Zealand touring squad - Pat Caughey is seated in the second row from the front on the far left of the row © PA Photos
Imagine a world so different that the All Blacks give trials to 188 players before making their final choices for a tour, where in spite of that extensive trialling they still convert a leading performer to an entirely new position before the tour starts, and where the team plays 19 matches before encountering its first international opposition.
That world is within leaving memory - at least if you are Brian Pope, the former England scrum-half who celebrated his 100th birthday earlier this week. The team was the 1935-6 All Blacks, the third of the line to visit Britain and Ireland, and the converted player was Thomas Harcourt Clarke 'Pat' Caughey, a few days younger than Pope. The centenary of Caughey's birth, July 4, 1911, falls next Monday.
Caughey was recalled by Sir Terry McLean, whose older brother Hugh was also a member of that 1935 touring party, as 'an elegant and stylish back of English style.' A member of the family whose Smith and Caughey department store remains one of the landmarks of Auckland's Queen Street, he developed rapidly as a player.
He made both the Auckland University and the province team in his first year out of school and was an All Black - his club's first since before the First World War - before he was 21. He went on both the 1932 and 1934 tours of Australia, playing all four tests at centre.
By 1935 he had graduated, but he continued to play with the University club, following a tradition of staying with Varsity clubs that historian Gordon Slatter reckons was started by Ron Bush, a 1931 All Black and one of the 159 men disappointed following the trials for the 1935 tour. Eleven of the 25 who had gone to Australia in 1934 also missed out.
Caughey, though, made the cut. And he was to play in an immense role on the tour, although not in the role he had expected. The boat journey across the world offered plenty of time for the tour's leaders - manager Vince Meredith, captain Jack Manchester and vice-captain Charles Oliver - to discuss the tour party and how they should play.
Caughey featured largely in these discussions. As Oliver recalled in the strikingly frank account of the tour he wrote together with team-mate Eric Tindill 'as everyone realized, Caughey was not a top-notch centre.' They initially thought of playing him on the wing, but were persuaded both by Caughey's preference and considerations of team strengths and weaknesses to try him instead at second five-eighth.
Caughey played, and scored, in the opening fixture against Devon and Cornwall at Devonport, where New Zealand Herald writer E.N.Greatorex reckoned 'he did just what a good five-eighth should do - make openings for the men outside him.' His success, and the injury that ruined the tour for Rusty Page, another of the midfield backs, meant that the experiment extended for the length of the tour, with Caughey playing 20 matches and three of the four internationals, missing the defeat against Wales with a knee injury.
His record shows him to have been devastating against any opposition below international level - his 14 tries made him the leading scorer on the tour and he totalled 31 tries in 30 non-Test matches across the length of his All Black career.
Oliver, whose blunt honesty would almost certainly be media-trained out of him nowadays, summed him up in his tour account as 'a temperamental player. He was a world beater on his day and was in the match-winner class, but he was liable to be inconsistent. His dashing attacks, and wonderful sense of anticipation, were features of the team's play. His defence, however, was not up to the same standard'.
Those qualities, in particular the astute support running that make him typical of good New Zealand backs at any time in their history, were most apparent in the hat-trick he scored against Scotland - each time taking advantage of the creative work of others, but having the skill, speed and positional sense to take the opportunity.
Those were the only tries he scored in his nine All Black Tests. There were to be two more caps at home - in 1936 against Australia and in 1937, when he was recalled on the wing for the decider against what is still reckoned by many to be the best of all Springbok teams. In 1936 a business trip outside New Zealand meant he was unavailable for the second Test against Australia, and the same reason ruled him out of the first two Springbok Tests a year later.
His big rugby career ended when he was just over 26. But he was then only at the beginning of a considerable business and public service career that saw him become Managing Director of Smith and Caughey for 23 years and chair of the Auckland Hospital Board for 15. It was that service that earned him a knighthood - as Sir Harcourt Caughey - in 1972, while the Sir Harcourt Caughey Fund continues to support medical research in New Zealand. In 1998, five years after his death, he was elected to the New Zealand Business Hall of Fame, where he has since been joined by two other All Blacks, Ron Jarden (also posthumously) and Wilson Whineray.
Terry McLean recalled: "Caughey may well have the handsomest man who ever played international rugby. He was invariably faultlessly dressed and groomed. But Pat Caughey never put on airs. Late in his life, walking to his Auckland office after lunch at his club, he stopped when a car full of young lads drew up at the kerb. 'Hey man,' the youngsters yelled, 'why you dressed like that?'
'Because,' said Sir Harcourt, broadly smiling, 'I knew I was going to meet you.' The yells of joy and laughter as the kids drove off was almost as great a tribute as the knighthood was.
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