On a fresh spring day, Doris Ridland and her three boys wave goodbye to members of the Taranaki Rugby Team as they board a plane for Dunedin. The watchers are the family of Taranaki Rugby Football Union secretary Jim Ridland, who is flying with the team. The Ridlands are the only people there to farewell the team, which is heading south for a Ranfurly Shield challenge against Otago.
It's been 44 years since Taranaki has won the much-coveted Shield, so supporters have no great hopes the Peter Burke-captained team will perform miracles. And so the players slip out of the province like invisible spirits.
Sitting in a downstairs room of his New Plymouth home, Burke's rugby career hangs on the wall, mostly in black-and-white pictures of men in the classic team pose. He points to one photograph, trying hard not to single out one or two players from that star-studded 1957 team, whose names are as familiar to older Taranaki folk as Hollywood stars are to readers of women's magazines. "They were all wonderful players in my book" Burke says, not happy to single out any particular player.
And then he's back there, reliving that momentous clash between the Amber and Blacks and the Blue and Golds. "The weather was not the best. It was a pretty sticky wicket. There were two or three inches of mud, so we got cracking. Out we go. It was a pretty even sort of a game. They [Otago] were leading at half time 6-0."
In the dressing room during the break, Otago coach Charlie Saxton gets stuck into his men. Taranaki coach Jack Paterson hears the tirade, so stays quiet, telling his players to listen in. "He said to me when we walked out of the dressing room, 'What do you think?'
"I said, 'Jack, we've got a hard row to hoe, but I will keep them going'. So we walked out and we were on there a few minutes and blow me if Otago doesn't score another try and it's 9-nil."
While the Otago kicker lined up the ball for the conversion, Burke says he talked to his men. "Listen here, let's get back there. Let's show these guys what we have come down here for – we've come down to win the Shield."
"So back we go. All of a sudden we scored, didn't we? Ross Brown scored first, then Ralph Carroll scored and Bill Cameron converted and all of a sudden, the score's 9-8. Then Terry O'Sullivan's scored and then of course it was 11-9 and that's the way it ended up." The Ranfurly Shield is in Taranaki's possession.
"After the game, we were so excited – you can imagine!" But Burke is served sour grapes. "Charlie Saxton [Otago coach] said to me 'Congratulations, but the best team lost' and I said 'Well, actually I don't care what you say, we have got the Shield'."
After a night of celebrations, the Taranaki team headed for home on a DC3. "Some of the boys weren't feeling so good" he grins. "On the flight from Wellington to New Plymouth, the captain came back and said, 'Quite a few people have come to welcome you home. I will do a couple of circles over the aerodrome'. He knew you see."
Burke points to a couple of photos jammed with people. "There was 20,000, wasn't there. The cars were lined from the old airport right back into town." As the Taranaki players step from the plane, a cheer erupts and Burke raises the Ranfurly Shield above his head. This is the photo that best represents that golden era.
Looking from the picture of a captain's glory to the 75-year-old surrounded by his past triumphs, there appears to be little difference between the two. The younger man is less lined (naturally), his face fuller, but the hair, parted down the middle, is exactly the same, just a little greyer in the older man, as if he has become a black-and-white photo.
Peter Burke: Riots and RugbyLink