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
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.