23 August 2021 – as seen on Stuff.co.nz
Rugby league buffs regard former Kiwis standoff Gary Woollard – who died last Sunday aged 79 – as a great example of how perseverance can pay off.
Woollard first toured Australia with the Kiwis as a 20-year-old Wellington scrumhalf in 1963, without playing a test.
A radio technician with the Civil Aviation service, young Woollard had trialled as a standoff, but was switched to scrumhalf for the second half, according to Evening Post archives.
He made enough of an impression to be named as the back-up to test scrumhalf Bill Snowden for the trip across the Tasman.
Woollard had started his career as a scrumhalf but moved out to standoff. He was in his third senior representative season and was Wellington’s vice-captain when named for his first tour.
After backing up Snowden in 1963, Woollard was also restricted to non-test matches on his next tour, across the Tasman in 1967, with Bob Irvine, Doug Ellwood, Paul Schultz and Roger Tait variously employed in the halves across the three tests.
But, in 1969 – six years after first fitted for a Kiwis blazer – Woollard made his test bow against the Kangaroos at Carlaw Park.
By then specialising at standoff, he played outside scrumhalf Graeme Cooksley in the Kiwi’s 18-14 win over a side containing Australian greats John Sattler, Ron Coote and Graeme Langlands.
New Zealand rugby league historian John Coffey noted that Woollard – by then playing his club football in Auckland – “persevered and broke through for one test against Australia in 1969 and the 1970 World Cup, the tournament coach Lory Blanchard used as his model for the big year of 1971”.
Woollard partnered Cooksley in the halves in the Kiwis’ 1970 World Cup matches in Europe against Australia, France and Great Britain and a subsequent test defeat to France in Carcassonne.
Blanchard retained Woollard for the Kiwis’ convincing 24-3 win over Australia in Auckland in 1971, pairing him with Ken Stirling.
That duo were also aboard for the Kiwis’ successful 1971 tour of Europe where they won test series against Great Britain (2-1) and France (2-0).
Woollard was not in the lineup for the 18-13 first test win over Great Britain at Salford, with a teenage Dennis Williams partnering Stirling in the halves, but he came on in the second half of the series-clinching 17-14 second test triumph at Castleford after English star Alex Murphy’s controversial high tackle on Stirling.
Woollard was back in the starting lineup at standoff for the 12-3 final test defeat at Leeds, with William shifted to the centres.
Woollard, who captained Auckland from 1969 to 1971, came into his own in the France series, starting all three tests against the Chanticleers.
He scored his first test try in the second international, won by the Kiwis 24-2 in Carcassonne to clinch the series, and signed off with another for the Kiwis’ only points in a 3-3 draw in the dead rubber fixture in Toulouse.
By then in his 30th year, Woollard hung up his boots after the tour following 10 tests (two tries) and another 32 non-international appearances (for three tries).
After playing in Auckland for Otahuhu and Mt Albert, Woollard returned to the capital, signing for St George in 1974. He coached the club to the 1977 Wellington title.
Woollard was the 13th member of the 26-man 1971 Kiwis team to pass away since 1998.