August 26 1967
Two New Zealand Under 23 trial matches were played in New Plymouth on August 26 1967. Bringing sixty plus players together was a significant and probably expensive logistical exercise, for what purpose? Was the NZRU planning a tour for the Under 23 team, like the one to Australia in 1964. No, a team was selected after trial matches and played Taranaki which hardly seems justification for assembling four trial teams. It is more likely that the trial was an attempt, in those pre televised rugby days, to check out at a different level the abilities of players performing well for provincial unions.
AND THE TALENT IDENTIFIED?
There was certainly plenty of talent among the 60 players who took the field (there do not seem to have been any replacements used). Six All Blacks came out the early game: Mick Duncan, Ash Gardiner, Bevan Holmes, Mark Sayer, Mick O’Callaghan and Mike Parkinson.
There were no fewer than 16 All Blacks in waiting in the second trial: Grahame Thorne, Owen Stephens, Gerald Kember, John Dougan, Ian Stevens, Bob Barber, Peter Whiting, Alex Wyllie, Tony Kreft, Kerry Tanner, Ian Eliason, Graham Williams, Ian Kirkpatrick, Bob Burgess, Bill Currey and Michael Knight. In addition Sam Strahan was selected for the later trial but was unavailable.
Trials for the All Blacks end of year tour to Canada, British Isles and France took place in September, with Under 23 triallists Kember, Thorne, Kirkpatrick and Williams, plus Strahan, winning selection in the touring team. A number of the others from the Under 23 trial went on to have significant provincial careers, including North Auckland’s Dennis Panther, an All Black reserve in 1968.
Captain of the “Probables” team in the early trial was a player with All Black connections that would become much better known in later years. Terry Mehrtens, a five eight from Canterbury, was the son of 1928 All Black George Mehrtens, played for Natal against the 1970 All Blacks, and is the father of 1995—2004 All Black Andrew Mehrtens.
That 22 All Blacks (23 if Strahan is included) came out of those trial matches suggests the trials were successful. It also indicated that the New Zealand provincial system as it applied at that time was itself very good at uncovering talent.