Former All-Black reflects on game of ‘rivalry, heritage’

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Waitaki Boys’ High School and St Kevin’s College will lock horns for the 80th ‘blood match’ today in an encounter that evokes passion, earns respect and boasts a string of former All Blacks.

Thomas Lister attended Waitaki Boys’ High School from 1957 to 1960 and remembers the ties against St Kevin’s well after being selected for the First XV in his final year at the school.

“It’s a big game. There’s a lot of rivalry and heritage,” he said.

“It was certainly the big thing, bigger than playing any of the other schools.

“There’s a lot of tradition. I never realised until years later that St Kevin’s had a lot less boys to choose from.”

Lister became an aggressive loose forward for the All Blacks in the late 1960s and early 1970s, in an era when New Zealand rugby was blessed with a number of talents in the back row, meaning there was a sporadic pattern to the former Waitaki student’s test career.

A product of South Canterbury, Lister made that union’s representative side in 1962 when he was not long out of Waitaki Boys’ High School and made the New Zealand under-23 team’s tour of Australia two years later before moving on to Wellington.

Lister had three impressive campaigns with Wellington and was in the sides which scored back-to-back wins in 1965 and 1966 over the Springboks and the Lions.

Despite being rated among the country’s most promising players, he narrowly missed selection for the All Black side, which toured Britain and France in 1967. His accession to the All Blacks, though, was inevitable and he duly made the tour of Australia early in 1968, by which time he had returned to South Canterbury. He played each test against the Wallabies and the first against France later that year.

In 1970, Lister toured South Africa and in what was an inconsistent selection policy with 27 players used in the four tests, was played in only the first and fourth. He reappeared for the All Blacks in the fourth test against the Lions in 1971 and scored a try to add to the one he had scored against Australia in Brisbane in 1968.

Earlier in Lister’s illustrious rugby career, he played a role in Waitaki’s 16-3 downing of St Kevin’s in the 1960 ‘blood match,’ a day that Lister remembers fondly after cementing a starting position of his own.

“Everyone wants to make the First XV. I have to thank the coach for that and the captain. The captain of the First XV happened to be in the same house as me. His name was Watt. I can’t remember his first name,” he said.

“I’d played at halfback and fullback and he said I better have a go at Number 8. It came from the selector as well.

“There were two games for the year I was in the First XV, the club game and the inter-school. I remember we won the one that counted.”

Lister said his WBHS side not only boasted players with impressive talent on the rugby field but also in the boxing ring, with halfback M. Emerson going on to win the national amateur Sommerville Light-Middleweight belt in 1962 and 1963.

“A lot of the players in the Waitaki team were a lot better than me then. I remember a boy called Emerson, he was a halfback and a bloody good boxer. He went on to win New Zealand titles. He was a very good player.”

Lister said he’d met lifelong friends through interschool rugby and it was a time the players should make the most of and enjoy.

“There was no animosity at the end between Waitaki and St Kevin’s. The people I met out of it I remember. I met people from Christchurch Boys’ High that I’ve been friends with for life from just one game.

“There’s a lot of pride. This is their big chance and they’ve got to make the most of it because you get no second chance. I wish them the best of luck,” he said.

By JAMES FORD

PHOTO: SUPPLIED – Former All Black Thomas Lister attended Waitaki Boys’ High School from 1957 to 1960.