It’s coming up 45 years since Tamahere resident Rex Pickering took the rugby field for Waikato, but he still remains devoted to the sport in the region.
In 1965 the loose forward played his 104th and final game for the province in a losing Ranfurly Shield challenge against Auckland and now aged 73, Pickering remains passionate about the game – now as the patron of the Frankton and Harlequins clubs and a keen spectator at Waikato Stadium.
Pickering played 21 matches for the All Blacks from 1957-1960, including three tests, and was the only player in the country to score tries against both the 1956 and 1965 Springboks, with the match in `56 seeing him make a remarkable appearance on the wing.
He was in Waikato teams that defeated South Africa 14-10 in 1956, France 22-3 in 1961, and drew with Australia 14-14 in 1958, captaining the Mooloos on 18 occasions, reports the Waikato Times in a series on past rugby greats.
Pickering was born in Te Kuiti and after finishing school at Nelson College, moved to Hamilton to look for work and lived with his grandmother, before his uncle introduced him to the Frankton rugby club.
From then on it was Frankton forever, including a coaching stint with the senior side in the late `60s.
“I was involved with Frankton all my life,” Pickering said.
“In those days, no cars, I had to bike from Claudelands down to Frankton and we had no changing rooms, we had to get changed under the hedge.”
Nowadays, as the patron of the club, he’s on the sidelines at all of the team’s games. This year the club is struggling, still without a victory, but Pickering said they’re not worried.
“They’re not the top team but that doesn’t concern them that much. They’re playing for the love of the game and they enjoy it. They’re not the competitive team they used to be. But they might come back one day.”
Of his All Blacks achievements, He said he was “extremely proud” and his rugby career had been “quite exciting”.
He remembers his Frankton side being top of the competition and there was just one disappointment for him in the red, yellow and black colours.
“I played for Waikato for 11 years and we never won the Ranfurly Shield, and that was a big issue in those days, more than it is now.”
While he still goes along to watch Waikato play, Pickering felt the costs for the public were too high and that professionalism had wrecked the game.
Since his playing days Pickering has remained in the region and he and his wife Christine live in Tamahere.
He did some accountancy work for the National Provident Fund, before it closed just before he was 60.
And now he keeps busy in other roles.
“I’ve been bullied into a few things. I’m the treasurer of the Red Cross in Cambridge. And we have another charitable trust that we run from home. And there’s an old group of ladies who come out here on Wednesdays and Thursdays to do craft work; my wife runs that. I do all the treasury stuff for that.
“If you want to know anything, you come out here on a Wednesday or a Thursday and you hear every problem in the world being solved.”