He never got the haka right, but Des Connor remained a dinkum All Black.
The most famous rugby Tasman-crosser before Robbie Deans, Connor was recognised on Wednesday as the 14th inductee into the Wallabies’ rugby hall of fame in his home city.
The halfback played 12 tests for the Wallabies, then took up a teaching job at Auckland’s Takapuna Grammar School and played another 12 tests for the All Blacks.
He then promptly hopped back across the Tasman to coach the Wallabies against New Zealand in 1968 where he was credited with pioneering the tactic of short lineouts at test level.
Unlike Deans’ job switch, Connor insisted he never sought an All Blacks jersey.
He played for Auckland under legendary coach Fred Allen and admitted the test selectors took “a huge gamble” selecting him to play France in 1961.
“That wasn’t the reason I went to New Zealand, it was just to play rugby and enjoy it, but that honour came along. I was very fortunate and very lucky that the selectors took that step.”
Then, international rules only required a month of residency and a place in a provincial team. He did enough against France to book a tour of Australia in 1962.
“It was me against Ken Catchpole who was the best in the world. There was no nationalistic thing about it at all, just playing at the highest level.”
Even if there was no hostility from his home country, Connor remembered his share of challenges wearing black in Queensland.
“Wilson Whineray said ‘this is your state, you should captain the All Blacks against them’. We ran out on the field and I thought ‘who the hell was going to lead the haka’.
“We had Waka Nathan in the side but he said ‘you’re the captain, you’ve got to lead the bloody thing’.
“I started off the haka facing the team going ‘ka mate, ka mate’, facing the wrong direction. I got through the first bit then I had to turn around.”
Connor, now 73, hailed the recent Experimental Law Variations and said northern hemisphere unions should “get their heads out of the sand” and agree to change.
His biggest annoyance of the modern game was the unwillingness of coaches to be creative and attempt to score tries from set phases.
He hailed Deans’ “enormous” contribution to Wallabies rugby in just a few months in the job.
And he felt the Wallabies could turn around their 53-8 hiding from the Springboks but wouldn’t be drawn on an outright tip for Saturday’s Tri-Nations decider at Suncorp Stadium.
“I don’t think they can play as badly second time around. I’m in a position where I can say my team’s going to win, so you can dodge those sort of questions.”