The Passing of a Brave Fullback
OBITUARY: And I said to myself: Watch out, Fergie. Here it comes.
The speaker who said that to himself in the first minute of his last Test in the 1970 series.
The "it" that was coming was an up-and-under kicked with menace by Piet Visagie the Springbok flyhalf. The ball was not coming alone as Fergie McCormick knew full well. Leading the charge at him with vengeance in their eyes were two of the world's greatest loose forwards, Piet Greyling and Jan Ellis. Greyling flattened McCormick and the vengeful boots of eight Springbok forwards flayed about the prone fullback.
Vengeance was theirs for what had happened in the second Test at Newlands, a Test of many stitches. Syd Nomis, the Springbok left wing was chasing his kick-ahead when McCormick also facing the ball flung out a left arm. The elbow banged into Nomis's mouth. The Springboks saw their team-mate gasping in pain as blood and teeth tumbled to the ground.
To add insult in injury time, McCormick kicked the penalty goal that won the match 9-8 for New Zealand.
This was, of course, when rugby was not yet sanitised by citing commissioners, TMOs, empowered assistant referees and concern for the welfare of players. It was a time when, in the words of famous prop, "you got your retaliation in first".
It was an incident that caused an uproar with those shouting foul and those murmuring accident. Then came the second Test, the up-and-under and a comfortable Springbok victory against All Blacks who were accused of being timid.
Fergie was in great pain after the third Test but was available for selection for the fourth Test but was not selected.,
The tough little farmer from North Island played just one more Testy, when the B&I Lions beat New Zealand 9-3 in Dunedin in 1971 on the way to becoming the only Lions team to win a Test series in New Zealand, emulating the 1937 Springboks. Fergie was dropped after the first Test, his place taken by Laurie Mains.
He played on till 1975 for Canterbury at the age of 35. He played for them a record 222 times, scoring 1297, a legend in the province. In all he played in 307 matches considered first class, scoring 2050 points. Between 1965 and 1971 he played 16 Tests of which New Zealand won 13 and lost three. Against Wales in 1969 he set a world record, scoring 24 points with three conversions, a dropped goal and five penalty goals.
McCormick was born on the South Island - the mainland to South Islanders. He went to Christchurch Boys' High, left early and became a plasterer. Later jobs included slaughterer and working in a sports store. later he ran pubs, was an hotelier and then became an estate agent and a farm owner.
His retirement was not rugby free. He coached and became the president of Canterbury Rugby Union and a life member. He was also a life member of the Linwood club that had meant so much to his father and to him. Fergie was a member of the club for 70 years.
His son Andrew, a strong centre, played 84 times for Canterbury and captained Japan at the 1999 Rugby World Cup.
One of six, Fergie was born into a sporting family of farming folk. Father Archie was a hooker and an All Black. Mother Jean and sister Helen were chosen to play hockey for New Zealand and sisters Kathleen, Joan and Gaye and brother Archie played representative sport. Fergie played softball for Canterbury and South Island.
William Fergus McCormick was born in Ashburton on 24 April 1939. He suffered from throat cancer and died in Christchurch 10 April 2018, survived by his children Andrew,Joanne, William, Jessica and Alister and four grandchildren.
He was one of rugby's great characters.