Latest News

The unkindest cut - IOL Sport

The unkindest cut – IOL Sport

  • Ratings12345

On Saturday at around lunchtime, six hours before the Springboks showed just how tough and ruthless they can be, I had my hair cut by the grandson of an All Black the media called “tough” and who the grandson called “ruthless”.

It’s a strange thing to have sat down in a barber’s chair, been gowned up and, as the clippers began buzzing, to have your barber tell you his grandfather had been denied an All Black cap because of South Africa. Well, it is and it isn’t. This is New Zealand. Everything eventually reverts back to rugby.

Walking down Customhouse Quay street after gym on Saturday, I walked past “Custom Cutz” before doubling back to see if they could smarten me up for, er, the other lads in the press box, I suppose. Brendan Blake, the barber, swept me on to a chair and five questions later had it out of me that I wanted a number two on the sides and back, some dignity on the top and was a rugby writer from South Africa.

“My grandfather was stopped from being an All Black because of apartheid.” It’s probably the best line in chat I have had from a barber. My reply was less eloquent. “Shit. Really? Jesus.”

Brendan is the grandson of Alan “Kiwi” Blake, who died in October last year, just three days short of his 88th birthday. In 1948, just after World War II, Kiwi Blake had been told he would be picked for the All Blacks to tour South Africa. But Kiwi Blake was dark-skinned, having a grandfather who was, by his own words, “a quarter negro”. It was assumed he had Maori blood, but it was actually African-American. The New Zealand Herald wrote in 2003 that, “ironically, it was racism that saw the Wairarapa flanker become a ‘Maori’ despite having no Maori blood. An outstanding forward in the New Zealanders’ World War II Army team, Blake said he was told by rugby bosses after the trials in 1948 that he, with Johnny Smith and Vince Bevan, would have made the following year’s All Black tour of South Africa had it not been for the colour of their skin. His granddad got his All Black cap against the Wallabies in 1949, but he wanted to play the South Africans.

“Former All Black captain Fred Allen said Blake was an excellent player who should have made the tour had New Zealand not acquiesced to South Africa’s demands for whites only. Allen said it was only later people learned Blake was not Maori.”

As he buzzed the hair on the side of my head down to a “one-and-a-half” Brendan Blake asked me if I’d like to see a clipping from the Dominion Post on his grandfather. A friend had given it to him and he kept it folded in a book on his counter. I read it as he cut. Kiwi was picked for the New Zealand Maori team in 1949, and because of his reputation as an outstanding player, never had to play a trial.

“He was, however, approached by the Wairarapa selectors in 1948. They told him ‘because of the dark blood’ in him he would be ineligible to tour the republic. But during the same conversation the selectors sounded him out on whether he would consider travelling to Fiji as a member of a New Zealand Maori team in 1949. ‘I said, well if I can’t go to South Africa then I certainly will, so long as I can play rugby. So they nominated me in the Maori team and when it came out I was going to Fiji, I never even played in the Maori trial.’ ”

The papers described him as “tough”. Brendan said he was “ruthless”. “When he was looking after us we knew not to mess around. He didn’t take that too well. And we were pretty well behaved, I can tell you. Grandad had been in the war. I think he was captured, but he didn’t talk about that too much. He played for the Kiwis rugby team that went to Europe, which is how he got the nickname.”

Blake, wrote the Post, “was raised on a farm in the foothills of the Tararuas, where he developed a lifetime love of pig hunting and deer-stalking. He attributed his longevity in rugby – which included 178 first class games – to pig-hunting in particular. He regularly went pig- hunting with Wairarapa teammates after a first class game, saying this got rid of any stiffness in his body. He was a mentor to All Blacks great Sir Brian Lochore in the early stages of the latter’s playing career in Wairarapa. In 1959 Kiwi Blake captained the Wairarapa-Bush team against the touring British Lions. He and his wife, Betty, raised their family of six on a rural property in the foothills of the Tararuas.

On the field Kiwi Blake was tough, off it he was a gentleman.”

Brendan’s dad played top-class rugby and his brother had played for the junior All Blacks before he was injured. He’s a youngish man, but is old in rugby and tales. In 20 minutes I had a $25 haircut and a story that warmed my heart. We shook hands and I told I would be back on October 2. “See you then, brother.”

If you are ever in Wellington, be sure and go to Custom Cutz. Tell Brendan I sent you and ask him about Kiwi Blake. He was a hell of a man.

By Kevin McCallum

Latest Tweets

  • DigitalMaori@BBCClick @Microsoft @Xbox @ExtremeTech clicked just as I sent my tweet. fascinating read. I'm buying both in a few weeks. can't wait2 play about 8 hours ago
  • DigitalMaori@BBCClick @Microsoft @Xbox @ExtremeTech just saw on squakbox that PS4 has sold 7m units about 9 hours ago
  • DigitalMaori@MorganGodfery @Waiariki_Cowboy bro all parties have the hat out. Some will get lots, others will still work on heart #mana about 9 hours ago
  • DigitalMaoriAmazing lightning strikes all across #Rotorua night skies. Meanwhile boys still playing Minecraft... about 9 hours ago
  • DigitalMaoriA cornerstone of backbeat Pacific & Celtic rhythms check out @PacificCurls for gig updates, festivals and beautiful Pacific & Celtic sounds. about 14 hours ago
  • DigitalMaoriRT @PacificCurls: Kia ora! Noa'ia! Warm Greetings! Just setting up our very first Twitter account! :) Love to all and stay warm, dry and sa… about 15 hours ago
  • DigitalMaori@misstahi @HemiHorne yes please that would be awesome about 4 days ago
  • DigitalMaori@traceyrcooper @n8tvaffairs @publicaddress perhaps we all need to figure out how to better work 2gether? about 4 days ago
  • DigitalMaori@justjenine and now my 9yr son wants to teach me. So cool. about 4 days ago
  • DigitalMaori@traceyrcooper @n8tvaffairs @publicaddress I do. Tv3 got blocked, TvNZ got blocked. We walked out and didn't cover the last day #solidarity about 4 days ago
  • DigitalMaori@chrisclaynz kia ora Chris. Awesome brother. Plz email me Can't wait to hear more. about 4 days ago
  • DigitalMaoriRT @misstahi: @misstahi: Amazing new exhibition in Wellington central - Johnson Witehira's Land of Tara #maori #taranaki… about 4 days ago
  • DigitalMaoriRT @publicaddress: New post: A little journalistic solidarity with Native Affairs and @Digita… about 4 days ago
  • DigitalMaori@RichDecibels @Loomio kia ora Rich. Awesome! Will be in touch soon. Exciting. about 4 days ago
  • DigitalMaoriOccupyNZ interviews Hone Harawira at #Mana #AGM about 4 days ago
  • DigitalMaori@AnkyraDAnatolia @VignaMichela @mycrixus that's correct PUKANA!! about 4 days ago
  • DigitalMaoriHOME!! Love that smell of the forest, the sulphur, the rain here in #Rotorua. Many many thanks @gnat for the invite to #kiwifoo. Kia ora! about 4 days ago
  • DigitalMaori@VignaMichela @mycrixus @AnkyraDAnatolia so I just said "powerful pukana cousin Manu!" in te reo #Maori about 5 days ago
  • DigitalMaori@VignaMichela @mycrixus @AnkyraDAnatolia kia ora. Manu/Crixus of the tribe Te Arawa in NZ is pulling a pukana, eyes big, tongue out #Maori about 5 days ago
  • DigitalMaoriRT @N8TVAFFAIRSTV: Coming up on Native Affairs: Tuhoe campaigners yesterday in Whakatane marching against the latest armed police... http:/… about 5 days ago