Thanks to Mungo69 who asked this question about my favourites team: “Great side, who do you think would be strong enough to coach a team that is chock full of personalities?”
It gave me the idea for this article as to who the coach would be.
I looked at the All Blacks’ coaches since 1949 and drew up my first list of prospective candidates:
Fred Allen 100 per cent winning record
JJ Stewart 54.5 per cent
Jack Gleeson 76.9 per cent
Brian Lochore 77.8 per cent
Alex Wylie 86.2 per cent
John Hart 75.6 per cent
John Mitchell 82.1 per cent
Graham Henry 85.4 per cent
Steve Hansen 86.9 per cent
There are some surprises there. I thought JJ Stewart would be higher, as from memory I thought he was an exceptional coach.
John Mitchell was the opposite. I am surprised his percentage is so high. Fred Allen is impressive. He won 14 out of 14 games.
Jack Gleeson I recall being an innovative coach. Alex Wylie has quite a high percentage too.
John Hart divided fans but was still a successful coach. Graham Henry and Steve Hansen have impressive figures.
For some reason I always think of Brian Lochore the player, rather than the coach. He was of course the head coach of the All Blacks’ World Cup-winning side in 1987, ably assisted by Wylie and Hart.
So that is my narrowed-down field of nine coaches to take charge of my favourites rugby team.
What qualities will be required to coach such a team? With head strong individuals in the team, a strong leader is required.
I need someone who would be a strong disciplinarian, not afraid to stand up to those players, who could manage issues their own way and someone who earned total respect from the players.
I need an inspirational figure who created a little fear. My coach would not be influenced by officialdom, would set trainings as a basis for perfection and would insist on playing an entertaining style of rugby.
He would bring out the best in players both on and off the field, with their potential fulfilled.
From those nine candidates I had the challenging task of narrowing them down to the final cut of two. These two fulfill the personal characteristics needed to coach this team.
They are leaders of men who want good people playing good rugby. And the two are Graham Henry and Fred Allen.
Some exceptionally good candidates are left out, especially Steve Hansen. I believe Hansen took over a good team, whereas Graham Henry created one.
Any of the other candidates would have done an excellent job of coaching the favourites team, but Henry and Allen had that little extra that is not easy to define.
Both were strong disciplinarians who were confident enough to pull into line anyone in the team, no matter their status as a player.
So now it is time to announce my decision as to who would coach out of Graham Henry and Fred Allen.
I was quite aware of what Henry had achieved, not so much with Allen, so I did further research on him.
He was coaching when I was young, so I do not have good memories of him, apart from what my father told me.
However, what I found out led me to decide that Fred Allen would be coach of this mythical team.
He is a leader of men, a strong disciplinarian and a coach responsible for a free-flowing style of rugby.
Graham Henry would have done a magnificent job, but Allen created the style of rugby that Henry’s teams played.
So, who is Fred Allen?
Allen was born in Oamaru in 1920 but was educated in Christchurch and played for the Linwood Club.
As a player he captained the Canterbury Colts in 1938 and was selected for Canterbury in 1939.
After returning from World War Two, where he served as a lieutenant, he settled in Auckland and played for Auckland Grammar Old Boys 1946 to ’48.
Allen was selected for the All Blacks in 1946 and in 1949 was selected as captain for the 1949 tour to South Africa, which they lost 4-0.
His retirement followed and he was rumoured to have thrown his boots off the ship during his return.
Winston McCarthy labelled Allen “one of the finest five-eighths and the greatest sidestepper off either foot.”
Coaching then called and Fred Allen was selector-coach for Auckland during their record reign of 25 Ranfurly Shield matches.
He became an All Blacks selector before becoming All Blacks coach in 1966. Through various tours and matches from 1966 to 1968, Allen became the only ever unbeaten All Blacks coach in 37 matches.
That included being unbeaten in 14 Test matches. He not only was unbeaten but played a fluent style of rugby.
As a motivational coach he was granted the nickname of ‘The Needle’ through his ability to push even the top All Blacks to greater achievements.
The legendary Colin Meads was often the victim of a tongue lashing from Allen. Sir Colin Meads once said: “He was a great coach, a real task master. Used to give me hell, but a top man.”
Author Alex McKay said: “By going after the best players, really giving them a demanding time, I think a lot of the other players sort of thought ‘oh gosh, if he’s gonna have a go at [Colin] Meads like that, what’s he gonna say to me?”
The Kiwi league team provided Allen with the desire to make the union game more entertaining. Between the 1940s and ’60s the All Blacks played a boring, ten-man kicking game, but Allen coached his team to run the ball and play open rugby.
You can probably attribute today’s fast-paced game to what Allen achieved in the ’60s. To sum it up, he was the “father of the modern game,” said McKay.
The coaching of Allen not only had a lasting influence on rugby, but on its players as well.
Bill Davis hailed Allen as one of the greatest coaches: “I’d say he was probably the best All Black coach ever, he took no prisoners… tough, tough love… Most players had a lot of respect for Allen and a little fear.”
Fred Allen’s training sessions were hard, with perfection of basic skills the key.
Before he died in 2012, Allen stated his aversion over the rule changes to journalist Peter Malcouronne: “they stupidly keep changing the laws, but the fundamentals are the same. Position, possession and pace, it is a simple game.”
Fred Allen showed his players that they could achieve anything in life and they certainly did that.
Many entered parliament. I’m not sure if that is an accolade these days! Some were knighted and most became valued members of the wider community.
The unbeaten 1967 All Blacks featured legendary players including Sid Going, Kel Tremain, Waka Nathan, Ian Kirkpatrick, Chris Laidlaw, the Meads brothers, Earle Kirton, Ken Gray, Fergie McCormick and were captained by Brian Lochore.
“I always thought that ’67 team was probably the greatest to play for the All Blacks, and there have been some great ones,” Steve Hansen said.
Hansen states that the way the ‘67 All Blacks played the game was a major reason why he respects them so much. He added that many of those players could be comfortable playing Super Rugby today. All attributed to Fred Allen.
How would today’s All Blacks compare with such a team? Not well I suspect. Would Fred Allen’s style improve such a team? Would they handle the hard discipline coached by Allen? We can only guess.
I wish I knew him better. He sounds like a great man; a fine, inspiring person.
Brian Lochore described Fred Allen “as the patriarch of New Zealand rugby.”
Fred is the coach of my favourites team.