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Otago Highlanders - News

Highlanders devastated by loss

Gordon Hunter Renowned rugby coach dies

By Brent Edwards
Former Highlanders coach Gordon Hunter died on Saturday and it was a sombre Highlanders team that flew to South Africa for its Super 12 tour matches.

The inaugural coach of the Highlanders in 1996, Hunter died after a long battle with cancer, leaving those who knew him best struggling to come to terms with the loss as they awaited their boarding call.

Hunter (52), who described the Otago and Highlanders teams he coached as "the family", was revered by the players for his loyalty and off-beat sense of humour. Anton Oliver, Taine Randell, Jeff Wilson, Tony Brown and John Blaikie were all members of Hunter's Highlanders in 1996. But the most directly affected player was loose forward Kelvin Middleton, who is the partner of the Hunters' elder daughter, Rachael. "Rachael's part of the extended Highlanders family, as are Andrea and Jenni [Hunter's other daughter and wife]," Highlanders assistant coach Greg Cooper said. "We're devastated for them and we're feeling it ourselves. It's tough on Kelvin." Cooper said the players had "great memories of a real, true Southern man".
Oliver, who spent a lot of time with Hunter during his illness, said his former coach was the most loyal rugby person he had known and that he had sat up to watch the Highlanders' last games. "That's great. It's just so hard to put into words how much I'll miss him."

Hunter coached Otago to famous wins over the Lions (1993), the Springboks (1994) and to the NPC grand finals in 1992, 1993 and 1995. He was assistant coach of the All Blacks in 1996 and 1997, when the All Blacks were unbeaten in 22 tests.



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