The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Former All Blacks prop and boxing champion Kevin Skinner dead at 86

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand - Kevin Skinner, a famously rugged All Blacks prop who became part of New Zealand rugby folklore for his role in its first test series win over South Africa, has died. He was 86.

New Zealand Rugby Union said Skinner, who was also a national heavyweight boxing champion, passed away Sunday night.

Skinner played the last two tests of the 1956 series which New Zealand won 3-1 after being called from retirement to replace players injured in the first two tests but also, according to legend, to "sort out" Springboks props Jaap Bekker and Chris Koch who were roughing up their opposites.

In the third test at Christchurch Skinner first warned Koch for barging through the All Blacks lineout and, when he persisted, floored him with a punch. When Bekker threatened to punch him at a scrum, he also dealt with him.

The 1956 test series is seen as a seminal moment in New Zealand's sporting history. The Springboks were the All Blacks greatest rivals but a test series win had always eluded New Zealand.

The Springboks forwards were giants and hard men who had proved more than a handful for their All Blacks opponents in the first two tests. Skinner was technically recalled as a replacement for props Joe McAtamney and Mark Irwin in the first two tests but the implicit message was that he was chosen to deal with Bekker and Koch.

"There was only one way to put an end to the visitors' illegal tactics and Kevin knew exactly what that was," All Blacks coach Fred Allen said later.

Koch and Skinner were good friends but that didn't stop Skinner delivering rough justice on the field at Lancaster Park in Christchurch. He delivered a polite warning that Koch should stop his raids through the All Blacks lineout and, when he didn't, he punched him.

Koch lost his front teeth and later liked to claim that Skinner had taken a gold ring from his finger and offered to him saying "here, get a couple of replacements made with this."

In total, Skinner played 20 tests among 63 matches for New Zealand. He made his debut, aged 21, on the 1949 tour to South Africa and retired in 1954 to concentrate on his grocery business.

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