All Blacks physio: I thought I was a dead man walking

Former All Black physiotherapist Malcolm Hood shares some remarkable stories from his long career with Neil Reid

When Malcolm Hood’s name was called out over Lancaster Park’s PA system during the second test between the All Blacks and touring 1977 British Lions he feared he was a “dead man walking”.

It was two years into his unsanctioned stint as the All Blacks’ unofficial physiotherapist; at the time medical officials were banned from test teams during rugby’s amateur era as they were deemed “professionals”.

Hood should never have been at the clash – which the All Blacks lost 13-9. Instead, he had planned to be with his heavily pregnant wife, Susan, who was overdue delivering their twins.

But he was ultimately swayed to fly from his Counties base to Christchurch by an insistent All Blacks coach, JJ Stewart, who was facing an injury crisis impacting star wing Grant Batty.

Before he left, Susan – who had been a patient at National Women’s Hospital for the past 13 weeks – told him: “Well if you are not here for the babies being born, then you are a dead man”.

Batty’s ongoing knee injury was so bad that not only was he scratched from the test after being assessed by Hood, he also retired from top-flight rugby.

Hood stayed on to help Stewart prepare the All Blacks for the Lions encounter.

As halftime approached in the test, a message stating: “Would Malcolm Hood urgently go to the secretary’s office”.

He feared it was confirmation of his worst fears, that Susan had finally gone into labour.

“I got up to the secretary’s office and he said: ‘An urgent situation has arisen’,” Hood said.

“I didn’t need him to tell me any more information; I knew that Susan had had the babies and something had gone wrong. I thought I was a dead man walking.”

But the emergency thankfully didn’t involve Susan. Instead, he was told All Black lock Frank Oliver had sustained what could have been a serious neck injury and would need it assessed at halftime.

“So at halftime I just walked on the field, I didn’t even think about what the ramifications could be, and treated Frank,” Hood said.

“I came off afterwards and a sporting World War III had erupted.”

Among the big crowd at Lancaster Park were members of the International Rugby Board who were outraged as they watched Hood – who they deemed a “professional” – enter the field of play.

The IRB called an emergency meeting in Christchurch to investigate the rule breach.

At it, former All Blacks coach JJ Stewart – who was one of side’s selectors – received a “dressing down” before being asked to explain why it happened.

And he turned the issue straight back on the rule makers, telling them: “Well, a serious neck injury . . . if you don’t want a professional going on the field, you can go on’.”

A double dose of good news followed for Hood.

Susan gave birth to healthy twins shortly after his arrival back from Christchurch.

And after several days of deliberation, the IRB changed its regulations to allow international teams to have one medical person – either a doctor or a physio – officially linked to them.

“But under no circumstances were they to be paid,” Hood said.

“That’s how my career started off and how sports medicine changed internationally [with rugby]. Up until then I could do everything except be in the team photograph.”

Hood’s previous unofficial linking with the All Blacks in 1975 had been a masterstroke devised from Stewart.

He said Stewart – who at that stage was the All Blacks coach – took a “shine to me” after seeing him work with the Counties provincial team.

Given rugby’s strict amateur rules of the time, Hood was not officially listed as being part of the All Blacks’ structure for his first two seasons with them.

Stewart’s plan to get around the IRB’s rules included arranging for Hood to give a speech at a rugby or other sporting club in the region hosting a test several days out from kick-off.

He would then be given a hotel room alongside those rooms booked out for the All Blacks.

“JJ then said: ‘I have no jurisdiction at all over what the All Blacks do in their spare time. If they happen to enjoy being in your company in your room, and you happen to have some of your equipment and a massage table, and bandages and tapes, and they want to spend time with you, it is not for me as a coach to stop amateurs from associating with whom they like’.

“So I would give the talk on a Wednesday, and be in the location of the test right through to the Saturday. I ate with the All Blacks, I was at the hotel with the All Blacks, I went to all the team sessions with the All Blacks.

“The All Blacks would spend more time in my company than they would in JJ’s,” Hood joked. “But officially, I was just a ‘guest’ at the team hotel.”

Water Polo Test: ‘Why would they cancel the All Blacks?’

The All Blacks had mentally won the famous ‘Water Polo Test’ even before they and Scotland ran out onto a flooded Eden Park, according to the side’s then unofficial physio.

Malcolm Hood initially linked with the All Blacks for the 1975 test, where the All Blacks defied the touring Scots and shocking weather and ground conditions to win 24-0.

But well before the match kicked off it was clear the rival teams had very different views on what should happen that day.

The All Blacks were there to play – regardless of the large pools of water across the playing surface, some 30cm deep. The Scots, meanwhile looked not so keen after players repeatedly left their dressing room to look at outside conditions, before returning sodden to their sanctuary under the grandstand.

“We all came into the changing shed, everybody sat down . . . I sat down in one far corner keeping quiet . . . and coach JJ Stewart made every All Black say whether they thought the test match was going to be on or not,” Hood recalled.

“He got to me and I didn’t think I had to say anything, I wasn’t part of the team. But JJ said, ‘Malcolm, you haven’t said anything. What do you think?’.

“I stood up to attention, I was in awe talking to JJ and the All Blacks, and said: ‘JJ, I saw photographs of Susan’s grandfather sitting in the snow with the Māori All Blacks when they were in Scotland and the game took place, I saw photographs in World War II where rugby took place between South Africa and New Zealanders. Why would they cancel the All Blacks?’.

“And Ian Kirkpatrick just stood up and started putting on his boots. He led by example. Every All Black just looked, realised, and started getting changed.”

Meanwhile, Scotland’s players were continually asking questions on whether the game was on or off.

The rain was so heavy that members of the crowd at Eden Park turned up wearing wetsuits.

Two years ago, match referee Peter McDavitt told the Herald he believed the game should have been called off.

He revealed he feared a player might “drown” during the game.

All Black centre Bill Osborne also told the Herald in 2019 that he believed he owed his life to team-mate Ken Stewart who pulled his head out of a deep pool of water when he ended up at the bottom of a ruck.

Many believe the match went ahead as it was the All Blacks’ only scheduled home test of the year, and the New Zealand Rugby Football Union did not have the finances available to refund match tickets.

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