October 21, 2011 - 11:15AM
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/rugby-union/union-news/the-murdoch-myth-all-blacks-legend-lives-life-of-a-recluse-after-infamous-punch-20111021-1mb2p.html#ixzz1bNZ6B7y5
Sent home in disgrace ... Keith Murdoch.
AUCKLAND: Somewhere in regional Australia lives a man whose tale has gone into New Zealand rugby's folklore. He is Keith Murdoch, the towering All Black who hit a security guard on tour in Wales, was sent home in disgrace and disappeared from the face of the earth.
The burly prop with piercing eyes and a handlebar moustache never spoke about the incident, or played a game of rugby, ever again.
A rare appearance ... Keith Murdoch in 2001. Photo: Getty Images
Instead he has spent the past four decades living as a recluse, moving from town to town in Australia while his teammates, family and the nation torture themselves with guilt and unanswered questions about that dark night in Cardiff in 1972.
Murdoch, a 110-kilogram colossus in the pre-gym era, had scored the winning try against Wales in front of a hostile 52,000-strong crowd at Cardiff Arms Park - Millennium Stadium's forerunner. He became an icon in New Zealand, the larrikin hero who was fond of the drink and known for the odd off-field fracas, but who delivered the All Blacks the crucial points to take them to a 19-16 victory that cold December night.
But the adulation gave way to disaster in the long hours of drinking following the tourists' victory.
Murdoch clocked a security guard who refused to let him into the closed bar at the famed rugby watering hole, The Angel Hotel. The guard, Peter Grant, was able to get up and walk away but the Welsh media went wild and the home rugby unions were dismayed.
After agreeing to a team proposal that Murdoch would be disciplined internally - but allowed to play in the next game against Scotland - team manager Ernie Todd changed his mind and expelled the Otago front-rower.
Instead of telling his side of the story, Murdoch got off the plane in Australia and vanished.
He has been seen four times since, each of them bizarre collisions with the world he determinedly tried to leave behind. Four or five years after the 1972 tour, Kiwi rugby writer, Terry "TP" McLean, tracked the notorious prop to an oil drilling site near Perth. The encounter was brief. McLean said hello and was told by a spanner-wielding Murdoch that he would be well advised to get back in the vehicle in which he arrived.
"I got back on the bus," McLean wrote in a short but colourful piece on their meeting.
In 1980 Murdoch was living with friends back in New Zealand. He saved the life of their young son who was found lifeless in a suburban swimming pool.
By the 1990s he was back across the Tasman. In 1990 part-time journalist and Auckland mother-of-three, Margot McRae, found Murdoch boarding in a pub in Tully, Queensland.
McRae was given a slightly warmer reception than McLean - Murdoch bought her a beer - but left without an on-camera interview.
The last public sighting came a decade later, in 2001, and did little to dispel the Murdoch myth.
He was called as a witness in a coronial inquest into the death of Christopher Limerick, a young Aboriginal man, in the Northern Territory. The then 57-year-old had caught Limerick breaking into his home in Tennant Creek the night before the 20-year-old disappeared. Limerick's body was found in an abandoned mine weeks later. Murdoch was never named as a suspect but police spent weeks tracking him after he left Tennant Creek for Katherine. The burly prop, whose thick dark hair had by now turned snowy white, eventually fronted the inquest but said little and antagonised the gathered media pack, shoving a camera and making faces.
He has not been seen or heard from since.
Now, a play running in Auckland this week, written by McRae, has brought his story to life once more. The production, Finding Murdoch, is a surprisingly warm and funny take on an event still talked about in hushed tones around New Zealand. McCrae sheds light on the complex circumstances that affected Todd's decision to send home his troubled prop, including the cancer diagnosis no one on the tour was aware of and Todd's poignant taped letters to his wife.
McRae reveals that some of the players tried to leave the tour in solidarity with their teammate but were told not to by Murdoch. And she paints a sad picture of guilt-ridden squad members who lived with regret for decades afterwards.
In one riveting scene, the journalist loosely modeled on McRae interviews Murdoch's captain on that tour, the rugby legend Ian Kirkpatrick.
"It was the first time he'd really talked about it," McRae told rugbyheaven in Auckland. "It was a huge admission on camera about the guilt he feels and a lot of friends have said about him that he [continued to feel] it terribly, that he didn't do the right thing. There's that sort of legacy of guilt and regret that's hung around the incident that's kind of fascinating."
The role of the media in creating and keeping alive the Keith Murdoch myth is another major theme.
McRae said she justified writing the play by knowing Murdoch himself would most likely never see it.
"Every night I think there's an inherent contradiction in this because in my own way I am of course just pushing the legend," she said. But in the end I love the story and I feel that it's a story worth telling because I feel that it's a cautionary tale as well, that (we should) be careful what we do to people to build up this legend. I wanted to show the contrast between this legend and this man, who is just nothing like the legend, who is just this guy. That to me is kind of the heart of the story - look what we do ... because of our appetite for heroes and villains.
"I wanted to strip it all away and say look at this person who says 'This isn't a story, it's my life'."