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Fullbacks are your last line of defence and Southland has produced great ones over the 40 year period from 1940's just after World War II and the early 1980's. Here they go.......
The first player to show out after World War II was T. R. D. Webster. He play from 1946-49 and was an All Black to Australia in 1947. It was his penalty goal in the first Ranfurly Shield challenge after the war that allowed Southland to hold the trophy with a 3-0 winning margin. Not a prolific goal kicker he was regarded as a sound fullback who was good in support play.
Taking his place on occasions in 1949 and then claiming the position for himself in 1950 was the Otautau player, J. T. Millar. A plucky player and a booming boot he kicked 151 points. On one occasion he even managed to give the "Boot" D. B. Clarke of Waikato a goal-kicking lesson when he landed five penalty goals in one game at Rugby Park against Waikato. He missed two seasons in the middle of his career when Marist player Pat Griffin took his place.
In 1955 Lloyd Ashby from the Mataura club, stamped his mark on the full-back berth where he was to make a positive contribution through to the end of the decade. Injury kept him out of the game against the 1956 Springboks but he still managed to score 65 points that season.
In 1958 he played his only test match when replacing the injured Don Clarke in the second test against Australia. He was the first player to score a century of points in a season for Southland when scoring 108 in 1959 when he helped Southland lift the Ranfurly Sheild from Taranaki. He scored a total of 328 points for Southland.
An interesting feature of Ashby's replacement was that he also came from Mataura. Barry Cullen took over the fullback mantle in 1960 and immediately established a reputation for reliable goalkicking. He posted a total of 441 points during his seven seasons of playing.
Hovering in the back-ground in the early stages of Cullen's career was Seaward Downs player Graham McKenzie. He had been in the Southland team of 1957 and distinguished himself with a great display against the Fijians of that year showing great courage on defence. He also played the 1961 French team.
In 1964 when Cullen was injured, Riversdale's versatile sportsman, Lew Hollands took over the fullback role and this multi-talented sportsman scored a total of 66 points.
Graham Townsend was more well known for his play on the wing for Southland but he also filled in at times at fullback and had among his rugby weapons a prodigious drop kick which was several times put to good use.
Invercargill fullback Doug Nicol was some thing of a rarity in post war years. He was a left footed kicker but he made the fullback position his own between 1968 and 1973. In his first major game for Southland, against the 1968 French team, he landed two penalty goals that almost carried Southland to victory.
With Nicol's transfer north to South Canterbury, Jeff Gardiner who had transferred from North Otago -as named at fullback in 1974 but a new young player of promise Geoff Valli forced his way into consideration for the team. And he made a great fist of the job.
A good attacking fullback, he relished the more open play of modern-day fullbacks and in his first three seasons he scored 78, 87 and 106 points for Southland before he left the province for Australia. He returned in 1980 to play for one season when he scored 81 points and won selection in the 1980 test against Fiji. He transferred to Northland in 1981 and played several seasons of rugby for Northland.
Gardiner stepped back into the team when Valli left in 1977 and he became the first choice player. He too was a good attacking player with a prodigious punt. He was a member of the Southland teams which beat Australia in 1978 and France in 1979.
The departure of Valli left a gap in 1981 and several choices were made in this position including Brian McKechnie, Grant Soper and Selwyn Winter.
Ian Clark played for most of the 1982 season but by 1983 young Woodlands player, Brent McKenzie was considered ready for selection.
He made his debut in the game against the British Lions and immediately impressed for his play under the high ball. He was selected for the 1984 NZ Juniors and the 1985 Emerging Players.
Bidding consistently for a place in the team was Ohai-Nightcaps player Eric Todd who, although slightly built had deceptive speed and stout defence.
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