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Sport Iconic All Black dies after battle with dementia

11:50  24 september  2021
11:50  24 september  2021 Source:   wwos.nine.com.au

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a man in a blue shirt: Former All Black Waka Nathan arrives to present the Waka Nathan Cup to Ponsonby. © Getty Former All Black Waka Nathan arrives to present the Waka Nathan Cup to Ponsonby.

Waka Nathan, a powerhouse for the All Blacks on the paddock in the 1960s, helped revive Māori rugby after his playing days.

The dynamic loose forward, who suffered from dementia in his later years, has died, aged 81.

Nathan, nicknamed the Black Panther during his career, played 14 tests for New Zealand, never being on the losing side.

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Former All Blacks prop Bill Bush, who played in NZ Māori teams selected by Nathan in the 1970s and toured Wales with the team when the latter was manager in 1982, said his death would "rock the Māori world, for sure''.

Bush credited Nathan for helping to revive Māori rugby after he retired from playing. He was a New Zealand Māori selector between 1971-77.

"He was a man of few words. He wasn't into giving speeches, he wasn't that sort of guy. He was very shy. But amongst us Māori boys he had no problem.''


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All Blacks captain Ardie Savea paid tribute to Nathan on Friday at the captain's run before the team's test against the Springboks on Saturday.

Savea said he had not met Nathan. "It wasn't until this morning I had conversations with people around him and the man he was.

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"We're sending our condolences and love to his family. I hear he was a great All Black, that he never lost a test match and he was known as the Black Panther.

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Former All Black Waka Nathan speaks at the luncheon honouring Don Clarke. © Getty Former All Black Waka Nathan speaks at the luncheon honouring Don Clarke.

"I'm slowly learning more about him but when someone is part of the All Blacks team they're a member of the family."

Nathan made his All Blacks debut in 1962 on a tour of Australia and was a standout for the side on their tour of Great Britain in 1963-64 despite suffering a broken jaw, scoring 11 tries in 15 matches.

He was described by late All Blacks great Sir Colin Meads as "that most virile runner with the ball in hand, great at exerting pressure close to the forwards."

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His nickname originated in a French newspaper which called him La Panthere Noire after the All Blacks played France in 1963. The paper's rugby reporter was said to be in awe of how Nathan could stalk the opposition like a panther.

Nathan played 88 games for Auckland after making his debut as an 18-year-old. Late in the 1960 season, he scored a dramatic last-minute try for his province against Canterbury which fullback Mike Cormack converted to retain the Ranfurly Shield with a 19-18 win, the All Blacks website reported.

Nathan was a former president of the Auckland Rugby Union, patron of the Auckland Rugby Union and an Auckland Rugby life member.


Fred Allen et al. standing in a field: Former All Blacks Fred Allen and Waka Nathan at Western Springs Stadium in 2009. © Getty Former All Blacks Fred Allen and Waka Nathan at Western Springs Stadium in 2009.

He was also given the honour by New Zealand Rugby to run onto the field and start the proceedings for the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987 at Eden Park.

He was honoured by Auckland Rugby for his commitment and devotion to the union as a player and administrator with the creation of the Waka Nathan Challenge Cup, which Auckland Rugby's premier club teams compete for.

"It is with great sadness that Auckland Rugby acknowledges the passing of Waka Nathan," Auckland Rugby said in a statement.

"Waka was a man of incredible mana who devoted a large part of his life to Auckland Rugby. Waka will be missed greatly, and our condolences go out to the Nathan whānau at this time."

This article was originally published on Stuff and is reproduced with permission

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