We've just seen on Twitter the terribly sad news that one of New Zealand rugby's greatest servants has died. Sir Fred Allen is reported to have passed away overnight at the age of 92. Sir Fred had been suffering from leukaemia for several months.
The All Blacks website provides biographical details:
Fred Allen has had a long association with Auckland and Auckland rugby but actually hails from the South Island. Born in Oamaru he was educated in Christchurch and it was for Canterbury that he played his first representative rugby, for the Primary Schools side in 1933. Joining the Linwood club he helped them to championships in the under 18 grade (1936) and second grade (1937). Graduating to senior ranks in 1938 he captained Canterbury Colts that year, then was chosen for the full representative side 1939-41, captaining the side in some matches.
During World War II he served as a lieutenant in the 27th and 30th Battalions. He appeared for Services teams, both in New Zealand and overseas as well as representing Wellington and Waikato when back in New Zealand in 1944.
At war's end Allen was selected for the 2nd NZEF "Kiwis" Army team that made a wonderfully successful tour of Britain in 1945/6, playing entertaining rugby of a very high standard. Allen was one of the great successes of the tour, playing in 28 of the 38 matches (only Johnny Smith and Jim Sherratt played as many games). Tour commentator Winston McCarthy described him as "Absolutely immaculate in his football. He could sidestep off either foot, he had a turn of speed, he had good hands, he had a good head. He was a beautiful footballer."
Back in New Zealand Fred Allen represented Auckland (from the Grammar club) and went on to captain the All Blacks in the two test series against Australia in 1946. He toured Australia, again as captain, the following year, playing in six of the 10 matches, including both tests.
After trials in 1948 Allen was, as expected, appointed captain of the All Black side that toured South Africa in 1949. That series, though the tests were each very close, went to the Springboks 4 - 0, though the All Blacks scored the more tries. Allen, who shouldered much of the coaching on that tour, was affected by injuries and stood down from the final two test matches. He retired from serious rugby after the tour.
Turning to coaching Allen was remarkably successful He was selector-coach of Auckland 1957-63 when the province established a new Ranfurly Shield record tenure of 25 matches. An All Black selector 1964-65, he was coach from 1966 to 1968 when the team won all 14 tests played. And teams coached by "Fred the Needle" were not only successful, they played very attractive rugby.
No All Black coach in history has had or will have a success record comparable to Sir Fred's record. And until his death, he was the oldest surviving All Black. And even in recent years, he has had some sage advice for those who administer and coach the game in New Zealand.
To Sir Fred's family we extend our most sincere sympathy on his passing. He was a wonderful New Zealander, and his knighthood in June 2010 was richly deserved. We are unlikely to see his like again.
UPDATE: The Herald backgrounds Sir Fred's knighthood:
Allen was made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for services to rugby in 2010. He had previously been awarded an OBE in 1990.
The New Zealand Rugby Football Union awarded him the Steinlager Salver in 2002, and in 2005 he was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame.Allen's wife Norma passed away in September 2009, and his only regret in accepting the Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit was that she was not there to share it with him.At the time of his award, John Key said: "This honour gives the people you have touched the chance to show their appreciation for your hard work, your dedication and your achievements. It also gives the New Zealand public the opportunity to recognise your efforts."On behalf of the government, my parliamentary colleagues and all New Zealanders, thank you."