By J B Phillips
“I can’t recall any one else returning so much to Wanganui rugby in the past half century as Dick Hurn.”
That was the praise from 1986 NZRFU councillor and 10 times Wanganui RFU chairman Brian Vaughan, a fellow WRFU life member, for the 89-year-old Richard Hurn who was such a dominant Wanganui and Rangitikei player and administrator.
Hurn, who died in Palmerston North recently, played 55 times for Manawatu and Wanganui between 1951 and 1959 and was a North Island Colts rep in 1951.
He also received a letter to trial for the All Blacks tour of South Africa in 1960 after a strong showing when Wanganui held the 1959 British Lions to 9-6 at Spriggens Park but he did not reply to the letter, opting to concentrate on his family life and business as a Marton sign writer after playing nine years of first-class provincial rugby.
That heralded his entry into rugby administration that continued for more than 50 years during which time he was elected a life member of the Wanganui union, Rangitikei sub-union and the Marton Athletic and Marton OB clubs.
Although extremely passionate and very vocal in regards to Rangitikei rugby – he was a Bebbington Shield rep player for the sub-union and later held numerous administration roles including president, patron, historian and regular media writer and spokesperson – Hurn also fully dedicated himself to Wanganui rugby.
He was Rangitikei delegate on the WRFU council of clubs for decades, serving on the council’s operations and judicial committees, was a union delegate to NZRU annual meetings, managed union and sub-union rep teams, was a member of the WRFU centenary (1987) and 125th jubilee (2012) organizing committees, and was union president in 1981.
Brian Vaughan recalls that Dick Hurn willingly involved himself in all aspects of administration within the union, including physical work on fund-raising ventures in the pre-professional days, and he was very concerned about the growth of all junior grades, continually stressing the that the future of the code locally depended on looking after the younger players.
Rangitikei stalwart Bruce Galpin (Marton OB) said Hurn was the “Heart of Rangitikei rugby”, playing a major role in all aspects of the sport since his arrival in Marton in 1956.
He lived at 11 Follett Street, right opposite Marton Park, and kept an eagle eye on the ground and facilities. This also included helping set up the fields and even wagging the collection tin at anyone who tried to sneak in through the old thick tree-lined park fence without paying an admission fee.
Alongside him for many years was his very familiar faithful terrier “Skipper” decked out in a yellow and black coat – the colours of Marton Athletic.
Hurn was a compulsive collector of rugby memorabilia, including programmes and media articles, and when he relocated to a Palmerton North retirement home several years ago because of mobility problems there were boxes and boxes to be sorted out.
He was born in Wellington and moved to Feilding at a young age, being educated at Feilding Agricultural High School where he undertook a sign-writing apprenticeship.
He played rugby for Feilding Yellow and repped for Manawatu as a lock or prop 23 times between 1951-54 including a Ranfurly Shield challenge against Waikato in Hamilton (beaten 3-12).
As a Wanganui representative he played in 32 matches between 1956 and 1959, including against the 1959 Lions and in three Ranfurly Shield challenges – against Canterbury (6-19 at Lancaster Park in 1956), Wellington (5-34 on Athletic Park in 1957) and Taranaki (13-17 v Taranaki at Rugby Park in 1959).
At a re-union of former Ranfurly Shield players he recalled how well Wanganui had played under selector Laddie Transom in the 1959 challenge and the close 6-9 loss to the British Isles on Spriggens Park just four days later.
The NZ Rugby Almanack praised Hurn three tmes during his Wanganui rep career –
1956 – “Hurn, past Manawatu, was a useful lock.”
1957 – “Hurn, the captain, a grand leader and hard working forward.”
1959 – “Hurn a first class forward.”
He played 11 of 14 games for Wanganui in 1956 including local wins over NZ Combined Services (8-3) and a star-studded Wellington (29-12).
Hurn captained the successful 1957 Butcher Boys who won six of nine fixtures including Manawatu twice, Taranaki 14-13 on Queen’s Birthday Monday, and visiting Otago 19-5 and Southland 24-6.
The NZ Almanack commented – “At its best this union was capable of good rugby, being well balanced back and forward and with a nice blend of experience and promise.”
But the next season, when former panel selector Len Hill was appointed as Wanganui’s first sole selector-coach in 14 years, the aggressive play of Dick Hurn was only called on once – a close 6-8 away loss to Manawatu.
Wanganui won only three of 13 matches.
Hurn was back in favour in 1959, missing only one of a dozen games, and although new selector Laddie Transom also won just three times he produced sides that gave both the Taranaki Ranfurly Shield holders and the visiting Lions such tremendous opposition within four days.
As well as rugby Hurn was also a member of the Rangitikei Tramping Club.
Dick Hurn, who was pre-deceased by his wife Elizabeth, is survived by children David, Peter, Julie Ann, Pamela, Robyn and Susan and his grand children.
A private funeral service has been held but an open memorial service in Marton is being arranged.