Brian Cederwall played 16 seasons of top level club rugby and cricket - also playing 103 representative rugby matches for Wellington (and many more riding the reserves bench) and 52 first-class cricket games. We asked him some questions about his career:
You played well over 300 Senior [Premier] matches; can you recall playing in your first game for Athletic in 1971 and your last game for Western Suburbs in 1986?
The first match I played was against Wellington College Old Boys, straight from Rongotai College where I had played only one season in the First XV. I was tiny at College but grew at 18-20 years of age.? I played centre against a seasoned senior player, surname of Morrison, and a week later against Bernie Hill of Onslow who had been a representative player in Bill Freeman's Wellington representative team. It was a challenging start.
The last game I played was for Western Suburbs against Petone 1992 in when I was coach and I was covering for an injury racked team.
However my serious rugby retirement was in 1986 when we had to win against Oriental Rongotai to avoid relegation.? At Athletic I had only once played Hardham Cup rugby, which we won with two games to spare.? Some of the players asked me to drink out of it and I couldn't bring myself to drink out of a loser's cup.
Did you play all or most of your club career at fullback?
I played centre for most of 1971 but our fullback went on holiday and I got asked to play there - ?a position I had played for an undefeated Rongotai College 3A team at school.? I played there right through until the last season, except for a couple of games at first and second five-eighth. However at Representative level I played quite regularly in those positions.
Was this triple century of appearances unbroken; did you miss much rugby due to injury or representative commitments?
I missed a handful of matches with broken bones but I had no other injuries so for the most part played continuously for 16 seasons.
I played 12 seasons for Athletic and four for Wests.? I also was an assistant coach of the Premiers for about seven years and head coach for three years.
You were also a prolific points scorer and goal kicker; approximately how many points did you score in your club rugby career for Athletic and latterly Wests??
For Athletic I scored a century of points each season for 11 consecutive seasons for around 1500 points in total. For wests I scored a century or more and then left the younger guys to do the kicking after that.
Why did you first play for Athletic and what ties or bonds kept you loyal to the same club for your entire career?
My brother Don was playing for Athletic at the time. Ironically he went to Poneke the next season [winning the 1975 Jubilee Cup with Poneke] but I was by established then as Athletic's fullback.
Athletic was a great traditional club having produced 20 All Blacks. Established in 1877,? It was the second oldest club? in Wellington [after the Wellington Axemen] and won the first Wellington club championship.
The old All Blacks at the club such as Jock Wells, Russell Watt, Nev MacEwan and Eric Tindall, not to mention Kiwi Morrie Ingpen, were so encouraging.? Famous Wellington coach Bill Freeman was also prominent. We couldn't let them down. ?Pre WW1 All Black and selector of the Invincibles Ranji Wilson, captain of New Zealand versus South Africa in 1921 Teddy Invincibles Cliff Porter and Snowy Svenson were aslo ghosts in the background.? We weren't just playing for ourselves. This generates fierce loyalty.
You won two Jubilee Cups with Athletic - in 1972 (shared with Wellington) and 1977 outright - were these career highlights?
We won the Swindale Shield in 1978 backing up the 1977 Jubilee Cup. That was a great side and for a small period we were so close to each other and near invincible.
What were some of the other individual match and season highlights from Wellington club rugby that stick out in your memory- both from a personal and team experience?
Eleven seasons of Jubilee cup rugby with Athletic and constantly there or thereabouts when club rugby has never been stronger was great.
Perhaps my most enduring memory was in my second season of Premier rugby in 1972 when we shared the Jubilee Cup with Petone.?
The Jubilee Cup was a round-robin with no play-offs in those days. We qualified for the ‘top 6', on points differential. Hedley Mortlock, a reporter for "The Truth", wrote an article giving us ‘a million to one' odds of winning the Cup.
We were fed to the Petone Wolves as was the custom of the times, who had 13 current or previous Wellington reps and we had two.? They had been murdering all teams by over 50 points all season when tries were still worth 3 points. I believe they hadn't lost for a couple of seasons.
?We had great belief and Coach Jim Allan and Captain Trevor Snowden and senior pro Ieti Tiatia exhorted us to create the upset of the decade and stuff up the union's ceding system which was designed to have a Petone versus Wellington final.
?We were up 19-3 at halftime and had our noses ahead 22-21 heading into the last 15 minutes and we defended to the end. News had got out about our lead and by the fulltime whistle a sea of people invaded the field and most of us were carried off by jubilant supporters.
We were brought back to reality next week against Marist but we beat Wellington the week after and had a soft ride home. We played the curtain-raiser to Wellington v Petone and were already drinking champagne watching whom was going to share the Jubilee Cup with us.
Petone was obviously the dominant team throughout much of your career, wining the Jubilee Cup more often than not in the 1970s - what made them such a formidable foe?
As I said, they had 13 rep players, All Blacks John Dougan, Andy Leslie and Nectar Stevens. They were not endowed with big forwards so they were ahead of their time playing a 15 man game similar to today's super 15 style. They simply ran teams off their feet.
Our plan was to play 10-man rugby, kick down the tramlines and cut off their counter attack and strangle them up front. We were the first Wellington team to use a one-out defence and it worked against Petone for a couple of seasons before anyone realised what we were up to.? By that time the rep team and everyone else were using it.
What other club rivalries were there for you and for Athletic?
The hardest team for Athletic was always Wellington as they were another traditional forward dominant team and we sort of cancelled each other out.? They also had some great players like Graham Williams, Murray Mexted and astute tactician Charlie Henderson.? Later MSP became a powerful team but there was never much in any of the games - club rugby was very strong - especially the top 8 teams.
Who were some of the most respected players you played with and against throughout your Wellington club rugby career?
Every team had a great first five-eighth. My brother Don use to give me a hard day at the office as I guess he knew my strengths and weaknesses.
As I said, all the rep players and even the B players stocked the top club teams and we respected them all. Nowadays all those guys would have played for Tasman, Manawatu and Wairarapa etc.
One other interesting thing was that our clubs were our academy; the senior players taught us how to play behave and live. I remember in my first season playing Petone at fullback and after the game the legendary Ken Gray took me aside and gave me a very encouraging bit of advice about rugby and fullback play, and from a front row forward it was all spot on.
Athletic merged with Karori and Onslow to form Wests at the end of 1982. At the time, this would've been a big deal to all players and supporters? Was the merger necessary and was it a smooth transition?
Our second team was three grades below - we only had four teams in the club. We were a central city club and had survived on strong recruiting from the CBD banks etc. The Suburban teams were cleaning up.? The huge number of school boys - 600-700 - was the major carrot.
So another key reason we sought to create a merger was the rise of suburban rugby in the late 70's and 80's.? To have the largest suburb in New Zealand i.e. Karori not to mention Wilton, Khandallah and Churton Park to foster junior rugby and recruit from was a great opportunity.?
The interesting recent development is that young people are now living in the CBD and city clubs have become stronger again.
It is my opinion that the Onslow and Karori side of the club and the Athletic side had huge philosophical differences.? We had only played at the Hardham Cup level two years in 105 years of existence.? We expected to win and would recruit and stop at nothing to win.? I felt the new club was content with mediocrity.? Upon reflection having a big base meant the administrators expected the players to just come.
You also represented Wellington on 103 occasions in first-class rugby - what were some of the games and occasions from your Wellington career that were highlights?
To sum up, major highlights were: winning the Ranfurly Shield in 1974, winning the NPC in 1978 (and personally scoring 300 club and rep season points), winning the Ranfurly Shield and NPC double in 1981, touring the UK in 1982, playing England, Scotland and France for Wellington and rececing four All Black trials and making the New Zealand juniors in 1973 and 1974.
Playing for Wellington was always special we played rugby that was enjoyable, we earned respect and we enjoyed each other's company off the field
I got an early baptism of what things were to be like when I first played Canterbury.
Fergie McCormack had been someone I really admired and respected as a player. He was running down the touchline and I dropped him in a bootlace tackle. ?He immediately jumped up and punched me. Graham Mourie came in to sort out and he kneed him in the groin.? There was no intervention from the Canterbury ref and in those days touch judges had no powers.
At that moment I had to decide how much I wanted it and decided not to take a backward step.? You had to protect yourself.
You also had an extensive club and representative cricket career for Wellington. What came first, cricket rugby or both?
In an era where few people did weights, sport was largely aerobic in those days. So one kept me fit for the other.? I didn't get stale as one was a rest from the other. ?I played 11 successive seasons of first-class cricket and rugby.? This was only broken when I missed the 1979/80 cricket season to play rugby in France for Mazamet 60 km from Toulouse in southern France.? Having three rugby seasons in a row made me really stale and I couldn't wait to play cricket again.
I guess I loved playing sport; I got hooked on it young and played primarily for enjoyment. Had I been picked in a New Zealand team I may have had to reconsider in order to hold the position.
Rugby and sport was and still is a family affair for you and your brothers, Don and Grant. Was Don the oldest, you middle and Grant the youngest??
Yes and we helped each other a lot.? One thing that escapes a lot of people is in our era of large families the backyard tests and rivalries were so intense we were ideally equipped to endure any amount of sledging at the first-class level.
Don played for Athletic between 1966-1971 then Poneke until 1983. Grant played for Athletic between 1978 -1981, went overseas and returned in 1984 when we had merged so he went with his mate to MSP. He came out of retirement to play for Wests in 1988 and 1989 when I was the Premier coach.
Post-rugby, how hard was it to hang up the boots after so long in the game?
I was ready to go after 16 Premier seasons of rugby and cricket.? I needed to spend time with my family and I was grateful for the support of my wife Trish. Yes, I spent a lot of years coaching Wests and lower grade Wellington rep teams and then my four son's teams in cricket and rugby at St Pat's College
Do you still follow Wellington club rugby closely; what are your thoughts on the current competition/game, as a comparison to when you played?
Yes I still love rugby, but I preferred the old game as back play was more fluid without the forwards stuffing and cluttering things up.
Image credit: The Dominion, 21 June 1986.