Sean Fitzpatrick, the All Blacks legend now at the heart of Welsh rugby


So, the query is, what would Sean Fitzpatrick’s father have made from him sitting on the board of the Scarlets?

“Dad could be handing over his grave if he knew I had joined a Welsh aspect,” quips the Kiwi legend.

“Particularly one which beat the All Blacks!”

Fitzpatrick’s late father, Brian, had good cause to have lower than fond emotions in the direction of Welsh rugby.

He made his Check debut as a centre threequarter at Cardiff Arms Park again in December 1953.

Famously, that continues to be Wales’ final victory over New Zealand.

“My dad by no means spoke about that recreation,” recollects Sean.

“He was a proud man and really proud to be an All Black.

“He all the time spoke about 525, which was his quantity.

“However he didn’t speak about that recreation.

“He grew to become superb pals with Cliff Morgan, who he performed in opposition to that day.

“Cliff tried for years and years to get him to return to Cardiff as a result of they’d a reunion for the 1953 group yearly.

“However dad would say to me ‘No bloody approach son, I’m by no means going again to that bloody place’.

“And he by no means did. Even in 1989, once we toured there, mum needed to go by herself as a result of dad wouldn’t return to Wales.”

Whereas his father solely performed in three Exams, Sean was to earn 92 caps, profitable the 1987 World Cup, a Lions sequence and captaining the All Blacks 51 occasions.

Now the 57-year-old former hooker is bringing all his huge expertise to bear in his function with the Scarlets.

Given his father’s involvement within the recreation, rugby was understandably an enormous a part of his upbringing in Auckland.

“Our life rising up within the Nineteen Sixties and early 70s was very a lot primarily based round our native rugby membership, which was Faculty Rifles,” he mentioned.

“I used to be the youngest of 4 kids, two sisters and an older brother.

“Dad being an All Black, I don’t assume it actually dawned on us how completely different that was to different dads.

“That’s as a result of it was fairly regular for us to have individuals like Keith Davis, Kevin Skinner, Bob Stuart, these nice All Blacks, coming spherical to our home.

“On Friday evening, we might sit down in entrance of the fireplace, watch TV and we’d be cleansing our rugby boots, with dad watching us out of the nook of his eye whereas studying the paper.

“Then Saturday morning, we might pile into mum and pop’s automotive and head off to the rugby membership for the day.

“At 4 or 5 years previous, I used to be the mascot for my brother’s group and I’d run round taking part in within the mud, pretending I used to be an important All Black.

“Then we might watch the senior recreation within the afternoon. Mum could be operating the tuck store, dad teaching the group after which they’d go on and have a couple of drinks and we’d re-enact our All Blacks versus Wales recreation on the principle subject, with all the youngsters of the households.

“Then we might head house at about 7pm. That was our weekend actually, with off to church on Sunday.

“That’s how I keep in mind it.

“I clearly had a ardour for rugby and I’ve such vivid recollections of our childhood.

“We used to get up early hours within the morning and watch the All Blacks taking part in in South Africa and the UK.

“Then my brother and I’d have Check matches out on the again garden each evening after faculty.

“The children on the street would all come round and we’d be kicking the ball over the ability traces.

“I’d think about it was simply precisely what went on in Wales.”

Fitzpatrick’s fascination with Welsh rugby was fuelled at a younger age.

“I used to go to mattress at evening dreaming of taking part in at Cardiff Arms Park,” he reveals.

“It simply regarded like such a cauldron, such a lovely wanting stadium and I’d hearken to the singing. We didn’t have that singing in New Zealand.

“Then, in 1971, the Lions came to visit and that sparked my love affair for these gamers.

“My technology was introduced up on Gareth Edwards and Barry John.

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“You ask Grant Fox why he began kicking not far away, he says ‘Properly, Barry John did’.

“Our technology might in all probability title extra of the 1971 group than the 2005 Lions that went to New Zealand.

“These names nonetheless resonate now.

“Mike Gibson, Gordon Brown, Willie John, Derek Quinnell. Bloody hell.”

A pupil at Sacred Coronary heart Faculty, Fitzpatrick performed his colleges rugby at prop and that’s the place he captained New Zealand U21s from.

However when he joined the College membership in Auckland, he made a decisive change.

“Graham Henry was our coach, consider it or not, and he mentioned ‘You might be by no means going to make it as a prop, you have to be a hooker’,” he recollects.

They have been to show smart phrases.

Fitzpatrick went on to forge a fame as a powerful scrummaging hooker with Auckland and made his Check debut in opposition to France in 1986.

The next 12 months, a hamstring damage to Andy Dalton opened the door, and he was to begin each recreation as New Zealand received the inaugural World Cup, together with a thumping victory over Wales within the semi-final.

Hooker Sean Fitzpatrick in the course of the New Zealand entrance row through the 1987 World Cup semi-final in opposition to Wales

There was to be no displacing him from the group after that.

Then, in 1989, he acquired to fulfil his childhood ambition when he ran out at Cardiff Arms Park in opposition to Wales.

“We have been fairly dominant,” he recollects.

“The sport was virtually over at half-time and the Welsh followers stopped singing.

“I assumed ‘Oh please sing’. All I needed to listen to was the singing.

“No disrespect to the Welsh group of that period, nevertheless it’s the membership video games that actually stick in my thoughts from that tour. I simply keep in mind the depth of these.

“Goodness me. Neath on the bloody Gnoll. Oh my phrase.

“Actually, the eagerness there was better than I might have anticipated anyplace actually.

“I keep in mind we walked into the bottom carrying our All Blacks blazers and ties and so they made us stroll in entrance of the principle stand. They have been bloody booing us and jeering.

“Grizz Wyllie (coach Alex Wyllie) led the cost and we acquired to the door of the altering room.

“We needed to go down a couple of steps, I can keep in mind it clear as day.

“The dressing room door was shut and the group have been nonetheless bloody yelling at us.

“There was a man in a white coat standing there and Grizz mentioned to him ‘Open the f***ing door!’

“The man was making an attempt to get the important thing out of his pocket and he couldn’t discover it.

“Grizz mentioned ‘Don’t f***ing fear about it’ and put his boot into the door.

“The entire door, the body and the whole lot was everywhere in the floor and we walked over the door into the altering room. Bloody hell!

“I truly went to a 20-year reunion of that recreation in 2009 with the Neath boys.

“That was a tough case night.”

Wanting again on his taking part in profession, Fitzpatrick views the interval after the 1991 World Cup disappointment as an actual watershed second.

“I used to be going to retire at 27,” he reveals.

“Fortunately, Laurie Mains (coach) rang me and mentioned ‘Do you wish to be an All Black once more?’

“I mentioned ‘I’d like to be’.

“He replied: ‘You might be in all probability not going to be since you are too fats, you’re too sluggish, you’re bloody boastful and you’ve got misplaced the respect of the All Black jersey’.

“He mentioned: ‘In the event you present me you will have modified within the subsequent six weeks, I would offer you an opportunity within the trials’.

“That was the most effective bit of stories I ever had as a result of it modified me completely.

“While you look again, it was in all probability truthful what he mentioned.

“I needed to change and re-boot my profession.

“I grew to become fitter, quicker, stronger, I grew to become a greater individual.

“It made me have a look at the entire recreation, not simply my recreation.

“It helped me change and I’m eternally grateful to Laurie for that.”

Appointed captain by Mains in 1992, Fitzpatrick went on to carry the place for 5 years.

His continued presence within the group meant but extra time on the bench for his long-serving deputy – a sure Warren Gatland, who was by no means to win a world cap.

“I performed 63 consecutive video games for the All Blacks and Gats sat on the bench for 57 of them,” he mentioned.

“While you look again in the present day, Christ, that was simply so unfair. However that’s the way in which it was in these days.

“As soon as you bought onto that sizzling seat, you weren’t going to let anybody take it.

“It made us vastly aggressive as a result of Gats was an excellent hooker.

“I feel he made me a greater participant.

“He clearly realized lots. He was a schoolteacher don’t overlook, so he sat there and took loads of notes!”

There was big success for Fitzpatrick alongside the way in which, together with main the All Blacks to a sequence victory over the Lions in 1993, together with his 92 caps bringing 74 victories.

Skipper Sean Fitzpatrick, centre, celebrates scoring a attempt within the decisive ultimate Check in opposition to the Lions in 1993

However there wasn’t to be one other World Cup triumph, together with his New Zealand group shedding the 1995 ultimate to South Africa at Ellis Park.

“It was a misplaced alternative, that’s for positive,” he says.

“We might have received it in regular time within the final minute, nevertheless it simply wasn’t to be.

“It wasn’t via a scarcity of making an attempt and it was the catalyst to maintain me going for one more couple of years.”

Lastly hanging up his boots in 1997, Fitzpatrick, a builder by commerce, went on to work extensively as a TV pundit.

“I by no means needed to get into teaching for some cause. It simply wasn’t one thing I felt snug with,” he mentioned.

“I put a lot effort into being an All Black.

“Individuals would say ‘Do you miss taking part in?’

“I’d say ‘No, I don’t truly’.

“For 12 years, it was such an enormous focus in my life. You needed to be completely devoted.

“So, once I retired, I needed to take pleasure in all of the issues I had been lacking out on, taking part in golf, sleeping in my very own mattress, spending time with my spouse and kids.”

Then, round 2004, got here a brand new journey.

“My spouse and I each determined we needed a little bit of change of life and to journey Europe,” he mentioned.

“So we packed the whole lot up and headed for this a part of the world for 2 years and we’re nonetheless right here.”

Shifting to London noticed him be a part of the board of Harlequins and he stays an advisor to the Premiership membership.

For the previous 20 years, he has been concerned with the Laureus World Sports activities Academy, of which he’s chairman.

“We’ve got made about 150 million Euros, we assist about 200 initiatives globally, we now have modified the lives of six million kids in 40 odd international locations, which we’re all very pleased with,” he mentioned.

Then, final 12 months, one other new challenge opened up for him when he was requested to use for a place on the Scarlets board.

“That got here completely out of the blue,” he reveals.

“However it simply fitted.

“West Wales is the closest factor I’ve seen to New Zealand when it comes to what rugby means to the world and there’s such an important historical past with the Scarlets – together with that 9-3 recreation in 1972!

“It’s a superb board, good individuals and Ken Owens is a top quality man, which is what you want as a membership captain.

“I identical to the individuals.”

Scarlets board member Sean Fitzpatrick

It has additionally seen him come into contact with a few of his childhood heroes.

“Once I was introduced on the board, Phil Bennett referred to as me,” he reveals.

“I put my hand over the receiver and mentioned to my spouse ‘It’s Phil Bennett on the cellphone!’

“It was such a buzz. I used to be like a child within the sweet store that he had truly referred to as me.

“This was that man from the Barbarians recreation in ‘73, the man from that attempt. The way in which he acquired it going, my God.

“I like seeing Phil and Derek Quinnell down there. I nonetheless get a kick.

“The present gamers have to learn about that, about the place they arrive from, that’s what we do within the All Blacks.

“I like the trendy recreation, however I’m additionally very old skool.”

Reflecting on his function with the Scarlets, Fitzpatrick mentioned: “It’s been actually tough due to coronavirus.

“I’m large on tradition and organisation and you’ll’t try this from a Zoom name.

“However I’m going down this week for the primary time in six months.

“I wish to get my enamel into it a bit extra and hopefully that can be doable now.”

As for the latest departure of head coach Glenn Delaney, he mentioned: “I really feel very sorry for Glenn, nevertheless it’s a outcomes pushed enterprise.”

Turning to the longer term, he mentioned: “There are some huge modifications coming in rugby. It’s an thrilling time.

“As a part of that, why shouldn’t the Scarlets look to be the most effective group in Europe?”

That’s Sean Fitzpatrick throughout. A person who set the very best requirements as a participant and one of many recreation’s really nice captains.


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