Keith Quinn: Wellington College: 1960-1964: “He is a wonderful bloke, once when the Wellington Football Club bought out a new club tie he bought a whole box of them. He liked the fact that they put ‘WFC’ under the club’s emblem. He is WFC too, William Frank Crist!”
After World War II, rugby at Wellington College entered a difficult phase. Despite the First XV for some years being coached by Sam Meads, cousin of the great Pinetree, success was hard to come by. Obviously the consequences of the war had an adverse effect, but so did the departure of veteran coaches Tibby Brodie and Tom Beard. Fortunately, in 1947 Frank Crist arrived!
Frank Crist – The Man
Originally from the Southern Hawke’s Bay, Frank Crist was educated at Dannevirke High School. After graduating from Auckland University College he served with the R.A.F. in the European theater of WW II. A Wellington representative forward, Crist inherited the First XV in 1953. Over the next ten seasons he would help revive a struggling team.
Wellington would win the annual quadrangular three times and produced two fine All Blacks, Ian Utley and Mark Sayers. Crist was an austere and firm coach. A run to the top of Mount Victoria was not uncommon and the need for ruthless rucking was drummed in relentlessly too! In 1955 Crist even placed a ball in a sack and requested the forwards to ruck it out! More famously though he had the apparent audacity to not select Ken Gray, who later became one of the greatest All Black props, for the First XV. In fact, Wellington College Old Boys Association Executive officer Stephanie Kane explained to me:
“Size was important in those days. You basically had to be eleven stone, big back then, just to get a look in. At the weigh in boys would put weights underneath their armpits just to increase their weight, Ken, believe or not, was a half-back through his early years at school, and was probably too small.”
The clamour just to be selected for the First XV and the high standards demanded by Crist were clearly big factors in Wellington’s renewed success.
Frank Crist: The Player By Clive Akers
- First Class Games: 95
- First Class Points: 83 (9 tries, 16 con, 7pen, 1dg)
- Wellington Games: 38
- New Zealand Services: 1943
- Dominions XV, Britain: 1944
- New Zealand Trial: 1948
- Wellington XV: 1950
- Barbarians Club: 1950
- Centurions Club: 1952-1956
- Bohemians Club: 1953
Famous Frank Moments
1955: v St Pats Town – Won: 48-6
The Evening Post: “Wellington played like juggernauts.”
The 71st game between the schools was transferred from a muddy Athletic Park and played on May 30th on what the Wellingtonian described as “a hockey field.” Ed Young scored a try in the first five minutes to set the tone! Wellington’s “heavier and faster forwards” were rampant! It was 21-0 at halftime and in total Wellington finished with nine tries to score their biggest victory against Town since 1917, the scorers were: John Hunn (2), Bill Fleming (2), John Grocott, Peter Seville, Geoff Walpole, Trevor Bringans and Graham Roberts.
1955: v Wanganui Collegiate – Won: 25-3
The Wellingtonian: “It was heartening to see our XV once again playing as a unit…Wanganui simply did not get going.”
Wellington had failed to win the Quadrangular outright since 1937, a shared victory in 1945 their best result in the past 17 seasons, which included 12 appearances in the playoff for third and fourth! The 1955 team was possibly the strongest that Crist produced, losing just one game to an unbeaten St Pats Silverstream. Wellington qualified for the final with an unpolished 14-5 victory over Christ’s. The final, played in front of an estimated ten thousand people and broadcast live on radio, saw Wellington at their very best, scoring seven tries in a crushing victory. Captain Ed Young once again scored the first try, but it was future Junior All Black Bill Fleming who was the star. He scored two tries, relishing the attacking approach that Wellington embraced, encouraged by Crist, and improved upon, after a training visit by All Blacks’ legend Bob Scott. The 2006 Lampstand, the Wellington College magazine for Old Boys expands on Wellington’s game plan:
“The playing method was simple but effective. From the start of each game the ball had to be passed along the backline to the wing without any player taking more than two or three strides, and with every player backing up the ball carrier. No back was allowed an inside break in the first twenty minutes of the game. In addition the fullback was encouraged to come into the backline outside the wing. This meant the games were played in an open manner that was enjoyed by players and spectators alike.”
The final was referred by New Zealand rugby and cricket international Eric Tindall. For Wellington it was their biggest win against Wanganui Collegiate up to that point and would remain so until 1999!
1957: v Nelson College – Won: 29-15
Wellingtonian:“Both forwards and backs had done their part…Nelson failed to live up to their reputation of being the strongest team.”
The last Wellington team to win the Quadrangular in the South Island prior to this match was in 1897. The 1957 team had a strong chance of breaking the drought though. They were unbeaten in interschool fixtures having accounted for Rongotai College, captained by future All Black Mick Williment, 9-3, St Pats Town, 21-0 and Wellington Technical College, 30-6. Additionally, they had drawn with Hutt Valley High School 11-11 and St Pats Silverstream, 9-9 – in the latter match scoring three unconverted tries. In the first match of the Quadrangular, played in Nelson, Wellington thrashed Christ’s by 23-5, scoring five tries. In the final they met Nelson College who had won six of the last eleven tournaments. Wellington, with characteristic speed and flair, ran out convincing winners, scoring seven tries. Wingers Lance Lekis and Felix Wendt scored two tries each and were outstanding. Future High Court Judge Hugh Williams was Wellington’s captain in this game, while Brian Hastings, who later played 31 cricket tests for New Zealand, was the vice captain. Bruce Heather, a member of the team, recalls however that they had to work a lot longer than expected for their victory:
“Tournament rules stipulate 35 minute spells and at the end of normal time the scoreboard showed Wellington 23 Nelson 12. However, the Nelson College clock stopped at 4.20pm. The referee was obviously going by the school clock rather than his watch and the second spell ran for a full 60 minutes. The crowd of over 5,000 were given a bonus 25 minutes but with the speed of the game the players were almost exhausted by the finish. Wellington fullback Tubby Wright, also the fast bowler of the College’s 1st Xl cricket team, was overheard appealing against the light to the referee, who finally got the message!”
1961: v St Pats Silverstream – Won: 6-5
Since 1951, Wellington had failed to beat Silverstream in nine games, with six of the defeats suffered by less than five points! This clash was extremely controversial! Though “the heavier Wellington forwards showed greater mobility and quickness to the loose ball”, Silverstream appeared to have a legitimate goal disallowed, denying them victory. The Evening Post account of Kevin Miles miss said:
“Miles kicked what appeared to be a fine penalty goal early in the first spell only to have it ruled not over by the referee. The two linesmen, both teams and almost every spectator considered that the ball had travelled clearly between the posts.”
Patrick Wikstrom (try) and Alistair Young (penalty) scored points for Wellington.
1962: v Nelson College – Won: 6-3
Wellingtonian:“The First Fifteen rose to the occasion magnificently and dictated this game in the forwards to an increasing degree. The pack was tightly knit and the backs provided spirited support. Nelson, with their pacy backline, at many times looked like they could break through, but the defence was too strong to bridge.”
Since 1958 Nelson had won an impressive 71 of their 89 games and had not suffered defeat in the Quadrangular since 1957. In a tense but free-flowing game the teams were scoreless at halftime. In the second spell Richard Ronald scored a try and David Heather kicked a penalty as Wellington, through tough defense and a superior lineout, at last beat Nelson and won the Quadrangular again.
1984 Heretaungan: “He exemplified and fostered the tradition of courtesy, co-operation and consideration that have come to be associated with this school. He has upheld the traditional virtues of self-discipline, tolerance and loyalty. His unfailing concern for the welfare of both his staff and their pupils earned great loyalty and respect…The School Board has held Mr Crist in high esteem; so much so that they have decided to call the administration block the Frank Crist block.”
In 1965 Frank Crist was appointed the headmaster of Hastings Boys High School. Though Crist had little direct association with the Hastings First XV through coaching, he was their most avid supporter and it is little surprise that Hastings enjoyed some memorable moments during his tenure as principal. In 1973 the First XV won the Hastings Under 23 competition. In 1977 the First XV won 14 of their 17 games, including a first victory against Gisborne Boys High School since 1962. The school also produced one of the greatest All Blacks of all time, Bruce Robertson, who appeared 68 times for his country, including 34 tests was in the 1969 and 1970 Hastings First XV’s. In 1983 Robertson returned to his old college to officially open the Jubilee pavilion. Under Crist’s astute leadership Hastings Boys flourished as some of the following achievements show!
Feats At Hastings Boys
- In 1968 a new assembly hall was completed.
- In 1972 a new library was completed.
- In 1974 a new technology block was completed.
- In 1979 the 75th Jubilee of the school was celebrated with over 2000 old pupils, board members and staff attending.
- In 1982 colours awards were introduced to recognize academic, sporting and cultural excellence.
In 1984 Crist retired as headmaster but remained active in the community. His volunteer work included a spell educating inmates at Hawke’s Bay Prison, over 45 years of service to the Hastings Rotary club, service for the Hawke’s Bay Community College, now the EIT, and service for the Anakiwa Trust which runs Outward Bound programs. Crist is now completely retired but still going strong at 92 years of age.
Note: I did invite Frank to participate in an interview for this story, however owing to ill heath at the time he was unable to speak. However Frank has read the story and approves of its content. I would like to thank Greta Crist for her assistance.
Acknowledgments: Keith Quinn, Dave Henderson, Stephanie Kane