John Bond was a highly respected goalkicking prop or second-rower for Papanui, Marist, Kaiapoi, Canterbury, South Island and New Zealand, becoming Kiwi #351 and playing seven Tests during a four-year stint in the national team.
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. 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 recalled in 2018 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. He also played in the 26-6 defeat to Great Britain in Bordeaux, before slotting three goals in New Zealand’s non-Test exhibition clash with Australia in Los Angeles enroute home.
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.
Bond toured Australia with the Kiwis in 1956, playing six games – including a two-try performance against Wide Bay – without being able to force his way into the Test line-up.
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 then took on a player-coach role with fledgling Kaiapoi in 1965.
Bond, a wool presser at the freezing works during his playing days, permanently called time on a club career spanning 22 years in 1969.
“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.
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’.”
NEW ZEALAND (1953-55)
7 Tests – 1 try, 2 goals (7 points)
15 tour matches – 4 tries, 3 goals (18 points)
-1954 World Cup tour
-1955-56 Kiwis tour of Great Britain and France
-1956 Kiwis tour of Australia