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Joe Morgan: My favourite second five

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Roar Guru
28th November, 2021
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Today’s rugby fans may never have heard of Joe Morgan, but to Northlanders especially, he will always be remembered as one of their favourite sons.

It seems apt that in biblical terms, Joseph was the favoured son of Jacob and Rachel, as Joe (Joseph) Morgan will never be forgotten as not only one of North Auckland’s legendary players, but also a well-respected man who endeared himself to the community.

The name Joseph means “he will add” and Joe Edmund Morgan added to Northland rugby and contributed immensely to community projects.

We will start with the rugby first, but his rugby endeavours were only part of a varied life. My articles thus far have featured my favourite All Blacks and when it came time to choose a second five-eighth’s I could not go past Joe Morgan.

There were others including Walter Little, Ma’a Nonu and Warwick Taylor who warranted consideration, but none had the connection I felt to Morgan while being a Northland (North Auckland) rugby supporter.

The videos featuring Joe are rare today and it took considerable time to locate the one I was after. If you want an idea as to the skill level of Morgan, watch his second Test try against the Springboks in Bloemfontein, 1976.

It is one of the finest individual tries seen in Test rugby and deserves to be seen by many more.;t=3244s

Watch for Joe Morgan’s try from 48.53 mins.


The match also features one of Morgan’s archetypal tackles he was renowned for.

Joe’s old high school sums it up well: “To recall, from a scrum, Joe gathered a classical no look reverse pass from his Mid Northern and Northland teammate Sid Going, and set off through a gap on a brilliant 30 yard solo run to dot down untouched near the posts leaving the South African defence in disarray.

WBHS Old Boys Association
He left Boks captain, Morne du Plessis clutching despairingly and not a hand was laid on Joe. And he showed a reasonable amount of speed for an old fella too! The Mid-Northern club must have celebrated that night!

Joe Morgan was born in Whangarei in 1945 and educated in Hukerenui and Whangarei Boys High School. He excelled at gymnastics, rugby and woodwork at Boys High, representing the First XV and Northland Secondary Schools rugby teams. He used his woodwork talent to start a carpentry apprenticeship when he left school and this led to forming Morgan Engineering.

Ted Griffin, the legendary North Auckland selector-coach identified Joe Morgan as a talent while playing for the Mid-Northern club. He played his first game as a 21 year old in 1967 and remarkably played a record 165 matches over fourteen consecutive seasons!

Joe made his final appearance for the Taniwha in 1981 when he was 36 years old. He played a role in North Auckland’s most historical moments including the two Ranfurly Shield challenges against Auckland in 1971 and Manawatu in 1978. Yes, Northland held the Ranfurly Shield and what a memorable shield reign it was too! Packed crowds at Okara Park in Whangarei would be unheard of today.

As a devoted Northland fan, it was increasingly hard to understand why Joe Morgan was not picked for the All Blacks. He did receive recognition by playing in the inter-island and All Black trial matches, but it was not until 1974 was he chosen for the All Blacks on an Australian tour.

He made his debut versus South Australia aged 28 years and his international debut vs Australia in Sydney. He was a late starter at 28, a time when players are on the downward spiral to retirement. His career was building and after further island and trial matches, was selected for the Irish Centenary tour, playing one Test.


As was a feature of Joe’s career he faced stern competition from other second fives and in 1975 was replaced by Lynn Jaffray for Tests against Scotland and Ireland in New Zealand.

Generic vintage rugby league or rugby union ball

(Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

His most memorable and successful time as an All Black was about to happen in 1976, when Joe was selected for the tour of South Africa. Yet another tour to break the hoodoo of never winning a series there. The team promised so much but there were flaws which came to be the team’s downfall.

Joe Morgan’s 13 matches and three Tests were a highlight of the tour. And then there was “that try.” The try contributed towards the All Blacks winning the Second Test and keeping the series alive. Sid Going also played a role with his goal kicking.

Joe Morgan faced stiff competition from Bill Osborne in 1977 and eventually lost his place but did play in an All Black trial. His time as an All Black was brief as his last Test was in Johannesburg at the age of thirty one. He played twenty two games for the All Blacks, including five Tests.

Joe also made his final appearance for North Auckland in 1981 aged thirty six years but went on to a rewarding coaching career in Northland rugby. He coached age group sides, Colts and Second XV and players were resounding in their praise of him.


Joe was not able to dominate his position as he had accomplished rivals in Ian Hurst, Jaffray, Osborne, Wayne Cottrell and Mark Sayers to compete with. Overall though he did have an outstanding career that would be the envy of other players.

He was a well built player with an intimidating defence, nimble footwork and chose his moments wisely to attack. Also, a courageous and loyal player, who was a great asset to Northland rugby. The same dedication in rugby was also carried over to his community work.

He selflessly devoted his time to charitable causes, from schools and working bees to sports facilities. Joe ran a successful business and was admired by his workers.

He was a devoted family man with three children and his wife Sharon. Sharon Morgan was elected as President of the Northland Rugby Union in 2017. She was the first female President of the Union.

Tragically, Joe Morgan died at the age of fifty seven, from severe head injuries after he fell at a Whangarei construction site in 2002. Northland lost an exceptional individual who held a special place in the hearts of Northlanders. Family said the backing of the community was “unbelievable.”

Joseph Edmund Morgan was not a flashy rugby player with devastating speed, or a bewildering sidestep, but he compensated for that with a relentless attitude, fearsome defence and rugby intelligence and patience. A loyal team man dedicated to his province. Joe was the third inductee into the Fideliter Fellowship at Whangarei Boys High School.

He is not everyone’s choice in a greatest All Black team, but he is my favourite All Black second five-eighth.


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