John Drake: The passing of a true legend
by Tracey Nelson
15 Dec 2008
It was with great sorrow New Zealand rugby circles learnt of the news that John Drake had passed away at his Mt Maunganui home on Saturday evening, at the age of just 49. Drake was part of the 1987 World Cup winning side, and played 12 matches (including 8 tests) for New Zealand at tight head prop.
Much of Drake’s scrummaging ability was honed playing off-season club rugby in France, and it was from France that he was first called into the All Blacks as a replacement prop during their tour to Argentina in 1985. He went on to play his first test match in France the following year, before being named in the World Cup side in 1987. Drake played in all but the opening game of that tournament, and later stated that the most memorable try in his career was the one that John Kirwan scored in the final against France “because that was when I knew we had the game won“.
Drake retired from playing the year after the RWC, and soon after shifted from Auckland to Mt Maunganui where he went on to have a very successful business career running Cotton Traders. But his links with rugby remained, and he continuedscrum coaching for the next few years.
He first entered media circles as radio comments man alongside Peter Montgomery for games at Eden Park, and then in 1998 began writing a column for the Auckland Herald. But it was his foray into rugby analysis for SKY Television’s rugby commentaries where he really found his niche.
Not only was Drake balanced and intelligent in the comments he made, he also had the ability to remain calm and articulate when the pressure was on. He chose his words well, and those of us listening would nod in agreement or be given cause to think further and deeper on what we had just seen on the screen. While his knowledge of all things scrum-wise was a given, his ability to analyse backline moves and plays was something that set him aside from other comments-people. Drake also had a long-time slot on Brendan Telfer’s Radio Sport show on Monday mornings,analysing the weekend’s rugby action.
New Zealand rugby analysis and comment will be muchthe poorer with his loss, especially SKY’s commentaries where his combination with game-caller Grant Nisbett was without peer. While we mourn the loss of a great rugby man our thoughts go out to his wife Cathy and three daughters, who have lost something even greater.
John Drake’s first class record:
Auckland: 1981-87 (University Club)
NZ Universities: 1980-82
NZ Trials: 1984 & 1987
North Zone: 1987
All Blacks: 1985-1988 (12 games, 8 tests)
Test tries: 1