Peterburke_1.jpg The 1957 Taranaki Rugby Team and officials in front of the DC3 that took them to Otago for the special Ranfurly Shield match. They are, front (from left): Ralph Carroll, John McCullough, Roger Urbahn, Davie Matheson (holding ukulele), Eric Keith, Roger Boon, Brendan O’Neill, Ian McDonald, Ray Tamati, John Mackie and Terry O’Sullivan. Behind, they are, from left: Peter Burke (captain), John Bayly, Walter Dudley, Ross Brown, John Graham, Ian McCready (selector), Russell Scown, Ike Flavell, Bill Orr, Earl Berendsen, Bill Cameron, Jack Paterson (coach, selector), Ray Potier (selector). Taranaki Stories image collection.

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.

13 January 2003 - Beach Street, Fitzroy

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.

28 September 1957 - Carisbrook Park, Dunedin

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'."

29 September 1957 – Returning home to New Plymouth

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."

Knew what?

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.

13 January 2003 - Beach Street, New Plymouth

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.

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Taranaki’s Terry O’Sullivan scores the winning try to take the Ranfurly Shield off Otago, 11-9, on September 28, 1957. Looking on with joy is Taranaki player John McCullough, while Otago’s Dave Gillespie (front left) fails to O’Sullivan’s pivotal points. At right is Otago player Howard Levene. All the men named in this picture were, or became, All Blacks. Taranaki Stories image collection.
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In Dunedin’s Carisbrook Park changing rooms, Taranaki Rugby captain Peter Burke holds the Ranfurly Shield surrounded by members of his team, from left: Ike Flavell, Russell Scown, Ross Brown, Brendan O’Neill, John Bayly, Ralph Carroll, John Mackie, Eric Keith, John McCullough, Bill Cameron and Bill Orr. The boys at front left are unknown. Taranaki Stories image collection.
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More than 20,000 people welcome the Taranaki Rugby Team as they touch down at the old New Plymouth Aerodrome with the coveted Ranfurly Shield. Fans also lined the streets from Bell Block into the city. Taranaki Stories image collection.
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Rugby lock Peter Burke in 1958 in his All Black gear, complete with Silver Fern. Players would only receive the New Zealand sporting emblem after taking the field for the Men In Black. Taranaki Stories image collection.

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