Farewell Fergie: Extremely combative, for Linwood, Canterbury or the All Blacks

27/9/2005. All Black and Canterbury rugby legend Fergie McCormick feeds some of his cows on his Canterbury farm before heading to work as realestate agent of First National. Photosport

When calling a handful of Fergie McCormick’s former teammates and asking for memorable stories of their mate, you’ll receive one common answer.

Anyone who knew Fergie well enough has plenty of great stories, just nothing that’s appropriate to print.

He was celebrated for his fearless tackling and was one of the first running fullbacks, possessing a startling turn of pace in his 18-year career with Canterbury.

However, after talking to many who played with him at the Canterbury level you learn he bled red and black, but on the inside he was a pure green and black Linwood man.

“He’d play for Linwood before playing for the All Blacks if they were stuck,” former teammate Lionel Hunter said.

Said former teammate Robin Cocks: “He’d played on Wednesday against South Canterbury and he came back for the Saturday game with Linwood. We were playing University who were very strong at that stage. I remember he had a row of stitches in his top lip. A lot of guys wouldn’t have played but he just put some sticky tape across the top of the stiches.”

Said former teammate Ian Mallard: “He was always extremely combative, whether he was playing for Linwood, Canterbury or the All Blacks, he played the same in every game.”

Said Alex Wyllie: “I’ll always remember we were playing Hawkes Bay, and Rod Abel, who’s a big lock, was running for the line. Fergie picked him up and took him back. That’s the sort of player he was. He wasn’t tall in stature but he was big in what he could do.”

Said former teammate
Ian Mallard: “Before a game in the changing sheds he would be very quiet and then the moment he stepped into the tunnel it was like you released a raging bull
. . . I remember in one game we played Christchurch at Lancaster Park and down the back of the line in the tunnel there was a bit of biff between him and Roger Mahan.”

Said Wyllie: “He’s a character within himself and some of his pet sayings would break you up and they probably can’t be repeated.”

Said former teammate Brent Elder: “Going into the dressing sheds after a game you’d get into the showers and look at ‘Worts’ or ‘Fungus’ as we used to call him and see all the sprig marks on his back. He’d have a big grin on his face and said ‘mate at least they’re your sprig marks and not someone else’s’. So he didn’t mind having sprig marks if they were his teammates because it meant we were getting the ball back. If they were the oppositions we wore the brunt of it.”

Said Wyllie: “He demanded a lot of himself and he demanded a lot from the people around him. He demanded a lot from the forwards as well. He was a big influence on any team that he played in.”

Said Linwood Rugby
Club president Bill McKnight: “A group of us had played under-19s the year before. We all arrived at trials at Linwood the following year. Fergie arrived and told us he’s coaching the under-20s so a group of us decided we’ll prefer to play a more social grade.”

“I ended up being a bit of a spokesperson for the group so he looked at me and said ‘well, it’s like this, I’m coaching under-20s, you guys are playing under-20s and you’ve got the biggest mouth so you’ll be the captain.’ That’s what he was like and we ended up becoming the best of mates,” said McKnight.

Said Elder: “We were playing Wellington at Athletic Park. Fergie was eyeing up Grant Batty and Batty told him he was going to run around him . . . just at the moment Batty had thought he’d got past him, Fergie bundled him into touch. He stood up and said not quick enough young fella. He was a special player. A true friend on the paddock and off the paddock. He didn’t take a backward step to anybody.”

Said Mallard: “He was one of the greatest ever as far as I’m concerned. I think him and Richie McCaw are two of the best rugby players I’ve ever seen.”

Said Hunter: “He was very knowledgeable on the game. If you were watching a game with Fergie, he would analyse it as it was going along. In fact he’d tell you how it was going to end.”

Said Cocks: “There were some pretty big crowds in our days at club rugby. You often heard the comments from the crowd. People from other clubs hated him just because he was so good and incredibly tough.”

Said Mallard: “If anybody was getting dealt to on the bottom of a ruck, he’d come charging in from the backs and there would be fists flying. He made sure he looked after his teammates.”