JUST weeks after mourning the death of former All Blacks captain and administrator Jock Hobbs, all of New Zealand experienced sadness all over again from the passing of another legend in the game.
On Saturday the previous week, Sir Fred "The Needle" Allen died of leukaemia at the grand old age of 92.
But he must have died a man contented, having witnessed his beloved All Blacks winning the 2011 Rugby World Cup at his "second home" Eden Park and seating in the stands together with his close mate and another All Black legend, Sir Colin Meads.
Allen played flyhalf 21 times for his country immediately after World War 2, all as captain. At the provincial level he first played for Canterbury before settling down to make a name in Auckland.
However he will be remembered more for his success as a coach, particularly his time with an equally legendary All Blacks era in the 60s.
The Needle coached the All Blacks from 1966 to 1968 for 37 matches. During that period they played 14Tests and won them all to set a record that remained intact for many years.
Amongst the other Al Blacks captains he coached were Sir Brian Lochore and Ian Kirkpatrick. So too Sir Wilson Whineray but this was with Auckland because Whineray had retired from international rugby by the time Allen coached the All Blacks. Other great All Blacks who played under him were flanker Waka Nathan, who was a pall-bearer at the funeral together with the other legends, and Kel Tremain.
Allen was called The Needle due to his background in the sewing industry and also because of the sharpness of his tongue.
Lochore's compliments: "He made rugby a simple game. The basics had to be done to perfection. In the end we played for him because we believed in what he was telling us.
"He was strong on discipline; for him it was number one in any team."
Within the team Allen treated everyone equal. No one was spared a lashing if he thought that would inspire them to play the game of their lives.
Although he was to be made captain only in 1971, and that too more like in the interim, "Pinetree" Meads was already the biggest name in New Zealand rugby when Allen was the All Blacks coach. Physically too he was a giant of his time, standing at 6 feet 4 inches. In fact not many would dispute the claim that Meads was the biggest name in world rugby at that time and nothing and no one intimidated him.
Meads was to bear the brunt of The Needle's fury when he yawned during a team talk. "Am I making you bored, Colin?"
According to Meads, Allen had a unique way of working up his players. He would sometimes read out telegrams from fans during the team talk. These would read something like "Meads is over the hill" or "Meads has been there for too long."
The telegrams were in fact Allen's own compositions, his way of impressing the young players that no one was special.
Money getting tighter
IT has been confirmed by the national union that player payments across the 14 top tier unions fell by more than 8 per cent or NZ$1.73 million (RM4.2 million) last year and is expected to drop further this year.
The salary range for the top tier ITM Cup was between NZ$15,000 and NZ$60,000 and one union that is definitely taking a haircut is Otago, to the tune of NZ$300,000 for the whole squad.
The question now is whether there will be an exodus, a player drain offshore where salaries are bigger.
There is a general optimism that this will not happen. May be not for the players in the radar for All Black selection but below this level, the exodus could possibly happen especially during tough economic times.
Already some players are doing jobs on the sideline to supplement their income.