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Opinion

Peter 'Pole' Whiting: Greatest ever All Blacks lock?

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12th September, 2021
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I do not specifically remember Peter ‘Pole’ Whiting for a giant leap in a lineout or massive scrummaging, I remember him for possibly the greatest try-saving tackle in All Blacks rugby history.

The tackle was in the second Test against South Africa in 1976 at Bloemfontein, a must-win match for the All Blacks to keep the series alive. This was 45 years ago, but my memory of the match and the tackle is still able to be recalled, although in a time-affected manner.

It is more the emotional response I remember. I have endeavoured to find a video on YouTube of either the match or tackle but without any luck.

Peter Whiting played the Test with back and rib cartilage injuries and had a bout of flu days prior to the Test, but as it was such a vital game, he made himself available.

Whiting, Bill Bush and Sid Going were the dominant players in the match for the All Blacks. They won 15-9, and a memorable try to Joe Morgan sealed the victory.

The match-saving tackle is well summed up by an article on rugby-talk.com.

“But there was one precarious moment 16 minutes from full-time, when from broken play Boland Coetzee went charging for the corner. The try seemed inevitable, when, from nowhere, Peter Whiting emerged, and with one of Test match rugby’s greatest tackles, drove Coetzee out across the touchline, a metre from the corner flag. The tackle had All Blacks supporters swooning after the match.”

Billy Bush described the tackle as follows.

“I didn’t know ‘Pole’ had it in him. He just took off like a jumbo jet and hit Coetzee, Peter Whiting was our biggest player, but was probably the size of their smallest.”

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Whiting measured in at 1.99 metres (six feet, six inches) and 112 kilograms.

Andy Leslie, the All Blacks captain stated: “I think that was the defining point of the game. Whiting was a stunning footballer”.

‘Pole’ Whiting himself modestly replied: “It was only because I was late to the ruck that I saw him”.

He also added a punch for good measure, to Coetzee for holding him in a lineout.

In one of the greatest games of any lock forward ever, Whiting was involved in everything; a towering presence in the lineouts, powerful scrummaging and even a torpedo kick for touch capped off an immense game for Peter Whiting.

A general view of a lineout at sunset

(Photo by Richard Heathcote – World Rugby via Getty Images)

So, the younger ones may be asking Peter who?

Firstly, and put simply, ‘Pole’ was the finest lineout forward of his time. Lineouts were a mess with illegal jumping and lifting, making it harder for a lock to dominate. Legal assisted lineout lifting was not brought into world rugby until 1999. I can only imagine what Whiting could achieve today.

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He was also a ferocious competitor who excelled in all aspects of being a lock and an all-round rugby player. From memory I recall he was probably not known as an open field runner, but because of their bulk not many locks are.

‘Pole’ was used as a receiver of kick-offs, ensuring the All Blacks secured possession. At this time, I believe players could mark the ball and kick for touch, which Peter Whiting performed with confidence.

If you wanted a hard man as one of your chosen locks, Whiting was your player. The ability to play with numerous injuries showed his great motivation.

Peter Whiting played for Auckland Grammar School 1st XV in 1963 and ’64. A fellow player was future All Blacks Graham Thorne. He and ‘Pole’ unbelievably played in the 1967 All Blacks trials before being selected for Auckland.

Due to Whiting’s inexperience, he missed the tour to the UK but Thorne made the team. However, Whiting played for Auckland and the NZ Juniors in 1968. He came on as a replacement for the Juniors against Japan in ’68, which the Japanese famously won.

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Injury prevented Whiting from being available for the 1970 tour of South Africa. He apparently broke his wrist on an opposing player’s head in a club game.

‘Pole’ Whiting finally made the All Blacks Test team aged 24 years against the British and Irish Lions’ famous team in 1971. His locking partner was a certain Colin ‘Pinetree’ Meads.

Then came the 1972-73 tour to Great Britain and France where he truly made his name. He was praised for being the best lineout forward in the world and played in all five Tests.

Following the tour, ‘Pole’ played against Australia in 1974 and then the short tour of Wales and Ireland under Andy Leslie. The touring party returned to NZ but he carried on playing for the Harlequins club in London until 1975.

Peter Whiting’s reputation was further enhanced on the 1976 All Blacks tour of South Africa where he played outstandingly well in the four Tests. A back injury hampered his ability to play in other games. He played his last Test aged 30 years against South Africa in Johannesburg.

All Blacks logo

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

With his career winding down, ‘Pole’ played a final season for Ponsonby, returned to South Africa with a world team in 1977 and played out his illustrious career with the Harlequins.

Several factors contributed towards his retirement, a desire to further his business interests, a body ravaged by rugby injuries, biased referees and objectives achieved.

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In South Africa, ‘Pole’ had pursued his rugby goals but had also attained an interest in gemstones. From the brutality of rugby to the beauty of precious stones, an unlikely combination.

At Auckland University he studied geology and went on to London and Germany where he furthered his qualifications in geology.

A gemstone importing and wholesale business was opened in 1978 and this was sold in 2014. The Whiting’s Melbourne-based family jewellery business was established with his three children, Cushla, Anna and Hamish.

Peter ‘Pole’ Whiting was a towering man with a tremendous heart who gave rugby matches his absolute optimum performance; a peerless lineout jumper with an all-round game to match.

He stands out in my memory for that tackle, which showed his qualities as a man and an All Black. He was not a glamorous player, nor a back who receives all the limelight, he was far too busy doing all the rugged stuff.

There are many past and present locks who could be tagged with the accolade of best ever, including Ian Jones, Gary Whetton, Andy Haden, Robin Brooke, Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock.

But for me Peter ‘Pole’ Whiting would be my first choice and someone who could excel in the modern game, along with Colin ‘Pinetree’ Meads, whose career was ending when my interest in rugby really began.

Peter John Whiting, another All Blacks favourite.

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