“You’re too fat, secondly you’re too slow, thirdly you’re bloody arrogant”, was former All Black coach Laurie Mains’ scathing review to one of the greats of the game.
It was 1992, a year after the All Blacks lost to the Wallabies in the semifinal of the World Cup.
Mains had succeeded Alex ‘Grizz’ Wyllie as head coach and didn’t mince his words when he called Fitzpatrick about what he thought of him.
“He said ‘do you want to be an All Black again?’ I said ‘Laurie, I’d love to be an All Black again’,” Fitzpatrick told Sky Sport’s The Pod which airs at 8pm on Thursdays.
“He said ‘well, you’re probably not going to be’ …. literally like that, as Laurie can, as Laurie would.
“He said, firstly you’re too fat, secondly you’re too slow, thirdly you’re bloody arrogant and, the thing that hurt me most of all, he said you’ve lost the respect of the All Blacks jersey.
“He said if you can show me you’ve changed in the next six weeks playing for Auckland I might give you a chance in the All Blacks trials.”
The message got through.
Fitzpatrick said the year before 1992 his life got cluttered and other things distracted him from footy, so he turned the page and got stuck into his craft.
“I got fitter, faster, stronger, totally focused and, unfortunately for Laurie, his man, Mike Brewer, got injured in the All Blacks trial,” he said.
“He was captain of the Probables and I was captain of the Possibles and Bruiser walked off the field saying, ‘Fitzy, my calf has blown, I’m gone’. I thought, ‘oh God, that means I could be captain’.
“In those days they named the team straight after. It took them about two hours debating, and Ernie (selector Earle Kirton) told me after, ‘the only thing we were debating, Fitzy, was who was going to be captain, because Laurie did not want you’.”
And as the history shows, Fitzpatrick became the All Black captain in the 1992 season.
The hooker would go on to lead the national side in 51 tests, also mounting a then-record 92 cap career until his retirement in 1997.
Two years later, in Wellington, Fitzpatrick received an ear bite from Springboks prop Johan le Roux who received an 18-month ban for doing so.
Asked about the infamous act, Fitzpatrick told The Pod he shared a beer with le Roux, remembering something his father taught him.
“If it happens on the field, make sure it stays on the field, and make sure you have a beer with your opposite number”.
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