Gary Seear, then Mac McCallion and just this past week, Dylan Mika. It’s a sad, premature farewell to three prominent members of the NZ Rugby family. And all played in the ‘8’ jersey a great many times during their careers.
Gary Seear died last month at age 65 after a long fight against cancer. Born in 1952, he now becomes the second regular member of the forward pack from the 1978 inaugural Grand Slam-winning All Black tourists to Britain and Ireland to pass away, after Frank Oliver (born 1948).
Otago blue and gold through and through, much of Gary Seear’s early career was as a lock- a position he made his debut in for Otago while still a teenager, and one in which he represented the South Island and was first chosen in for the All Blacks in. He made his test debut for New Zealand on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1977 against France, at Toulouse (The All Blacks did in fact ‘louse’ 13-18). Other All Blacks on test debut that day were Brian McKechnie, Stu Wilson, Mark Donaldson, Gary Knight and John Black. In essence, this team was the basis for the historic group a year on.
It was ‘a whole different ball game’ just a week later in Paris though. In a famous encounter at the Parc-de-Princes, the ABs confounded and dumbfounded the massive French forward pack (including the terrifying Cholley) with short lineouts and quick ball transfers and won an almost-perfect victory 15-3.
And Seear’s contribution was notable, and very unexpected. For when a penalty was awarded at around the half hour mark, the fair-haired no 8 was thrown the ball for a shot from at least forty-five metres (more like fifty with the angle factor). Bryan Williams was the usual long-distance option but was out, badly injured.
Being Paris the whistles would have been more or less deafening, but no matter because with a somewhat ungainly looking sweep of a big right leg the adidas egg was sent flying straight and true with distance to spare. What a start to your second-only test match and that as an extremely part-time goal kicker. It definitely ranks as one of more unusual moments in NZ’s international rugby history. At 2’19 on this video from 99waylon:
Gary Seear played in twelve test matches. His final one coming against Australia on July 28, 1979, in what DJ Cameron termed ‘The Ned Kelly test’- on account of the All Blacks being ‘ambushed’ by an almost impossible schedule. They succumbed 6-12, and the Aussies had their first victory on home soil over the All Blacks for forty-five years (you read that right), and snared the Bledisloe Cup. Dick Byres also put in a noteworthy performance as the sixteenth member of the Australian team, many might recall.
W.L. ‘Mac’ McCallion (born in 1950, and who also succumbed to dreaded cancer), achieved great success as the coach of Counties-Manukau in the early days of pro rugby- his charges finishing runner-up to Auckland and Canterbury in successive years of the NPC (1996 and 97); back when our premier domestic competition was something properly tangible and meaningful.
Will anyone who witnessed it at the ground or on the goggle box ever forget the comeback from rack and ruin that Counties managed over Waikato in the 1997 NPC semi-final? Down by 9-33 in Hamilton with just over a quarter of the match left, they amazingly triumphed 43-40. People say that the PA person had already started announcing how Waikato fans could obtain tickets for the Final. A certain Fijian flier named Joeli Vidiri was the man the Mooloos just couldn’t stop.
Aside from his coaching prowess Mac McCallion was also a lead-by-example captain for NZ Maori. In 1979 he led the Maori to Australia, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, his side achieving some outstanding results. They played seven, won six and drew 18-18 in the very first match of the tour- against a Queenland line-up that could have easily graced the whole Australian test line-up. Included were Wallaby legends Andrew Slack, Brendan Moon, Paul McLean, Mark Loane, Tony Shaw, Greg Cornelsen, Chris Handy and Stan Pilecki. (In fact the 1980 All Blacks lost easily to Queenland. The score was only 3-9 but it could have been far worse).
On that historic tour New South Wales were beaten 15-12, (Western) Samoa 26-3, Tonga 26-9 and, in a hurricane-like wind, Fiji were vanquished 19-13. Note that the scourge of Manawatu, Chippie Semenoff kicked five penalty goals in the Fiji win.
On checking Wikipedia, I noticed that Mac McCallion was also a Vietnam War veteran. Thank goodness he came back home.
Dylan Mika was born in Auckland in 1972 and was educated at Marcellin College before going to St Peter’s College (cheers to wiki for that fact also). Dylan was a type- one, insulin-dependent diabetic from a young age- a fact that I never knew until after his death.
He was probably more a blindside flanker than a true number eight, but I’m using a bit of poetic licence. There is a brilliant photo of the All Blacks lining up for the anthem at the 1999 World Cup. Mika is standing alongside the late, great Jonah Lomu. The steely look of determination on both immediately stands out, but what is also striking is that even though it was almost twenty years ago, they look the absolute epitome of the elite modern Rugby athlete- rugged to a tee, but boyish-looking at the same time, if that makes sense. They stand as two brothers-in-arms as one. One Tongan, the other Samoan. And both very sadly no longer around.
Nothing I could ever write here could do a semblance of justice to the life force that Dylan Mika appeared to be. The best thing I can do is to introduce this tribute to him by Michael Jones, and written by Liam Napier.