Legendary All Blacks prop Kevin Skinner passed away aged 86, as was reported by the Otago Daily Times on Monday. Throughout his career, Skinner forged a reputation as one of the hardest men to ever wear the black jersey and should be remembered as one of New Zealand's finest ever.
In Paul Verdon's 2001 book Tribute, a panel judged Skinner to be the 12th-greatest All Black of all time. Of the props, only Ken Gray rated higher than him. His ranking placed him ahead of other legends such as Sean Fitzpatrick, Jonah Lomu, Mark Nicholls and Kel Tremain.
Thirteen years on, that list would undoubtedly be somewhat different. A handful of the most recent generation of All Blacks are certainly worthy of inclusion. But Skinner remains one of the best and should be remembered as such.
He is one of the earliest in a long line of great New Zealand props. Johnny Simpson, Gray, Sir Wilson Whineray and Gary Knight all spring readily to mind, while more recently Olo Brown, Carl Hayman and Tony Woodcock have staked their claims to join that pantheon of legends.
While Gray is widely acclaimed to be the greatest prop New Zealand has ever produced, Skinner would certainly have to be at least the equal of any other man on that list.
He is best remembered for his exploits in the 1956 series against the Springboks, where he was called out of retirement for the final two Tests to help deal with a physical South African front row. In these games, Skinner showed his versatility by playing on both sides of the scrum and gave the All Blacks a physical edge up front.
They would go on to win what is still remembered as one of the most significant series in New Zealand rugby history.
But Skinner was much more than this. That he was brought out of retirement mid-tour to toughen up the All Blacks front row shows the esteem he was held in.
He was known as a strong man who was fearless going into contact. Scrum-wise he was able to pack down on both sides, while at kick-off time he was rock solid. In Skinner's time as a prop, he also had to act as a line-out jumper, as lifting was not permitted. Often they were used as an option at the front, and Skinner was one who excelled in this role.
When he retired he had played more games for the All Blacks than anyone else, with 63, including 20 Tests, surpassing Maurice Brownlie's record of 61.
After the 1949 tour to South Africa, Springbok No. 8 Hennie Muller called the front row of Skinner, Simpson and Has Catley the best he had ever played against.
Not only does he compare with the great props of New Zealand rugby, but also with the greatest hard men to wear the black jersey.
In an era where the strong, tough, enforcer was considered key, Skinner was one of the best and is remembered as such. He performed a similar role to that of Ken Gray a decade later, while Brownlie, Buck Shelford, Mark Shaw and Colin Meads could also be used as comparisons. His performances in 1956 confirmed his standing alongside these great hard men, and perhaps he even surpasses them in some people's eyes.
When making a mythical All Blacks team drawing on any player from any era, Skinner would certainly go close to filling one of the propping roles.
Gray is commonly seen among these teams, and rightly so. He possessed many of the same qualities as Skinner and is endorsed as one of the strongest men to ever pull on the black jersey. Like Skinner, he could also play both sides of the scrum, was a great No. 2 line-out jumper and was the perennial hard man on his teams.
For the other position it would perhaps depend on what type of player you wanted. If looking for a powerful scrummager, one might perhaps look at an Olo Brown or Carl Hayman. Someone looking for a more skilful, open-field player might be more inclined to go for Whineray.
But if simply looking for someone to work hard and gain a physical edge, it would be hard to go past Skinner. Imagine him and Gray in a front row on either side of Fitzpatrick. You would be hard-pressed to come up with a tougher, more intimidating front row than that anywhere.
With time, many have surpassed his records. Sixty-three games is no longer close to the most appearances for the All Blacks, while 20 Tests can be reached in less than two years. The likes of Meads and Shelford have come and gone, filling the same role of enforcer he once filled.
But time cannot change what he did on the field. A true hard man of the black jersey who deserves to be remembered along with the very best to have ever pulled it on.
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