CRL LEGEND SERIES NO.7: JOHN BOND
Kiwi #351 John Bond was born in Kaiapoi to the north of Christchurch, moving a few miles closer to town to Redwood with his family when he was eight years old. Now 87, the former Papanui, Marist, Kaiapoi, Canterbury, South Island and New Zealand prop/second-rower has lived in the suburb ever since.
Bond’s rugby league journey began as a 15-year-old. Struggling to get a game of union at Belfast, Bond’s father told him he was playing the wrong game and encouraged him to sign up with Papanui.
That was 1947, and he survived a baptism of fire in the rugged senior club competition – including copping a headbutt from the revered Pat Smith.
“I was a big boy, 14-and-a-half stone (92.3kg),” Bond says, explaining why he bypassed the junior grades and was pitched straight into Papanui’s senior sides.
Just four years later Bond earned his provincial spurs for Canterbury and in 1953 he received a maiden Kiwis call-up.
Bond, just 21, was drafted into the New Zealand line-up at prop for fellow Cantabrian Lory Blanchard, who broke a collarbone playing for Linwood, for the series-opening Test against Australia in Christchurch.
The hosts romped to a 25-5 win over an Australian side boasting such luminaries as Brian Carlson, Harry Wells, Keith Holman, Roy Bull, Ken Kearney, Brian Davies and captain-coach Clive Churchill – though future Immortal Churchill was the only player Bond had heard of. The tyro gave an excellent account of himself in the front-row and displayed his goalkicking talents with a goal from the sideline in the latter stages.
“During the match I remember (captain) Jimmy Haig saying to me, ‘I’ll boot your arse you lazy bugger’, and I thought I was slogging my guts out!” Bond recounted for The Kiwis: 100 Years of International Rugby League.
“Then after the game Jimmy came up and said, ‘You went a good one, young Jack’. He rewarded me by giving me that shot at goal, even if it was right from the sideline.”
Bond reveals he could easily have debuted for his country on the tour of Australia a year earlier after trialling strongly but his penchant for a good time during his younger days delayed his progression.
In a classic ‘boys will be boys’ yarn, Bond and some Papanui teammates went to a dance in Stillwater while on an away trip to the West Coast with the Canterbury side. Bond arrived back at the team accommodation at 6am and met long-serving Canterbury coach Jim Amos on the stairs. Amos, who took over as coach of the Kiwis in 1952, was on his way to church.
“That was the reason I didn’t get chosen in ’52 – he didn’t tell me that until ’54 when we went to the World Cup,” Bond recalls without a hint of hard feelings.
“He said, ‘I’ve got to vouch for every guy’s character in this team’.”
But Bond won Amos over eventually, playing all but one of his Tests for New Zealand under his coaching.
Bond held his front-row spot for the remainder of New Zealand’s 2-1 series win over the Australian tourists in ’53, while he scored his only Test try in the following year’s series opener against Great Britain at Carlaw Park after starting in the second-row.
Later in 1954 he was part of the New Zealand squad for the inaugural World Cup in France, historic also for being the Kiwis’ first Northern Hemisphere air voyage. New Zealand played France in the tournament opener in Paris and, with legendary goalkicker Des White unavailable for the World Cup, Bond booted two goals in a 22-13 loss.
Bond was on the plane again for the Kiwis’ 1955-56 tour of Britain and France, tallying three tries from nine appearances and playing the last of his seven Tests in the 28-13 dead-rubber victory over Great Britain at Leeds.
After being out of favour with coach Harold Tetley throughout the tour, Bond said his standout performance in Great Britain’s first-ever loss at the famed Headingley ground was the highlight of his Kiwis tenure.
He represented South Island until 1956 and helped Papanui to its first championship in 1957, before playing hooker for Canterbury against Great Britain in 1958 and hanging up the boots at the end of that season. But Bond rescinded his retirement in 1962 to play for Marist – much to the Papanui officials’ chagrin, Bond recalls – then took on a player-coach role with fledgling Kaiapoi in 1965.
“We had a good team at Kaiapoi – when everyone turned up. There were some very good players but you never knew if you were going to have a full team to run out on Saturday,” Bond laughs.
Bond permanently called time on a club career spanning 22 years in 1969.
Besides his size, Bond had an inherent advantage keeping in shape for rugby league through his occupation. He was a wool presser at the freezing works for many years – a gruelling, physical job.
But it made for a demanding game-day schedule: Bond would punch out a 5am-11am shift on Saturday morning, rush home for lunch and then ride his bike across town in time for the afternoon game.
“Jim Amos said to me at training once, ‘you’re a bit sluggish, you’re not going as well as you can go.’ I said, ‘I’m trying my best!’
“So he came along to the works one day to see what we did – we were doing 60 bales a day. I was fit as a trout but my old legs were tired.”
Bond eventually got a rest, though, spending 15 years as the second-in-command of his department.
A keen gardener, Bond was forced to downsize to a smaller property after taking a tumble off a ladder in 2015.
“I was trimming back a lancewood, the ladder skidded out and I went over the fence. I landed on (the neighbour’s) driveway – split my forehead, smashed my nose, broke my wrist and broke my heel,” Bond says.
After a seven-month stint in a moon boot, Bond was back on his feet and stunned his doctors and nurses with his rapid recovery.
Bond remains an avid rugby league supporter, lamenting the rough end of the refereeing stick the Warriors regularly receive but enjoying the club’s 2018 renaissance.
He remembers a 50-year reunion in 2003 in Auckland of the 1953 Kiwis side that defeated Australia fondly and is a regular at South Island Kiwis Association get-togethers at Gary Clarke’s museum in Woolston.
In 2017 he was invited to speak to the Kiwis squad in the lead-up to their clash with Scotland in Christchurch, imparting some basic-but-vital knowledge on the players following along the World Cup trail he helped blaze 63 years earlier in France.
“I said to them, ‘This game’s simple, all you’ve got do is use this – I pointed to my head – and these, and I showed them my hands’.”