Next week, on Wednesday 31st January (2018), the annual two day ASB Peter Johnstone Memorial Tournament kicks off at Bowls Mount Maunganui.
Started 27 years ago by Bowls Mt Maunganui club member Peter Henderson, a 1949 All Black and athlete in the 1950 Empire Games, the tournament was initially open to bowlers who had a background in rugby – playing at provincial level or higher; refereeing for 5 years; or administering the game for 10 years or more. The tournament set-up was supported by club stalwart, Don MacKenzie and fiery Waikato Number 8, George Nola (‘the unluckiest man never to be an All Black’).
In 1998, the tournament adopted its present name – the Peter Johnstone Memorial Tournament – when Jim Johnstone donated a trophy in memory of his brother Peter, who had suddenly died the previous year. Peter had played in the tournament as a former All Black (26 matches from 1949 to 1951, including 9 internationals), as well as playing all 4 tests against the 1950 British Lions, and captained the All Blacks 10 times.
Despite living in Dunedin, Jim also travelled north with 3 mates every year and played in the tournament until he passed a couple of years ago. Jim had played fullback for Wellington. Tournament founder, Peter Henderson, also played, and won the tournament twice.
Over the years, the tournament has attracted a who’s who of rugby. Past players have included Sir Colin Meads, Peter Burke, Pat Walsh, Keith Davis, Barrie Thomas, Neil Wolfe, Adrian Clarke and Ross Brown. At the age of 90, Bob Scott played in the tournament, returning to his home in Whangamata each night to look after his dog.
But history was made last year when Suzanne Shortland became the first woman to play in the tournament. As a Black Fern, Suzanne played 3 World Cups, and was Player of the Year in the late 1990s.
These days the eligibility rules for the tournament have been relaxed – being open to all bowlers who have played, refereed, or administered rugby from club level upwards. Nonetheless. ‘the Rugby Tournament’ as it has become nicknamed, has still attracted a stunning field of rugby names. It is a full field of 176 players in 44 teams.
Canterbury’s sending a team for the first time comprising ex-All Blacks Alex Wylie and Doug Bruce; Bill Flavell (New Zealand Maori) and Na Katae (Southern Maori and Canterbury).
They’ll be challenged by teams from Auckland including ex-All Blacks Sir Brian Williams and Keith Nelson; and Auckland fullback Roger Whatman.
Dunedin will be sending a team, continuing the northbound legacy created by trophy donor Jim Johnstone. The Far North will also be represented by a team which includes Past President of the NZRU, Richie Guy.
The organisers are thankful to ASB who is sponsoring the tournament for the first time. As in past years, the tournament will donate $600 to a worthy rugby cause - this year to the New Zealand Rugby Foundation in support of seriously injured players. The Chair of the Foundation, Gerard van Tilborg, is also playing next week.
The Tournament will be opened on the first day with a dinner for participants. Ex-All Black Captain and Past President of the NZRU, Tane Norton, has sent his best wishes for a successful tournament