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‘Enforcer’ sets the record straight

Submitted by on Saturday, 13 June 2009No Comment
‘Enforcer’ sets the record straight

Richard Loe says he was never as hardcore as his reputation suggests, and explains why French club rugby was a real eye-opener

You have been described in various publications as being a hugely talented prop forward, but renowned for ‘thuggery’ on the field and that you were known by your teammates as ‘the enforcer’ – how true is all of that?

I was never known as, ‘the enforcer’ although I might have been called upon to fulfil that role a couple of times. They are right about the talented (laughs). I might have been a bit tough on the park, but ‘thuggery’? I don’t think so.

There was an incident reported about someone sending the team abusive faxes after a test and you got involved – what happened there?

Ah yeah – we were sitting in a hotel in Melbourne and these rude faxes were coming through; unsigned of course, as one would expect from the gutless wonders who do that sort of thing. Eventually they started to annoy me so I phoned the number at the top of the page from where they had been sent. Some bloke answered and I said ‘Have you been sending faxes for the All Blacks to this hotel?’ He said yes and I said, ‘This is Richard Loe here – is there a problem?’  Well he just started babbling, ‘No – no problem…’, before I think he dropped the phone.

With all the trouble you seemed to get into on the field; did you get into many fights off the field?

No, not really. It’s ok to be the nicest person at the local cafe or pool parlour, but when I played rugby I changed. I turned it on; it’s a serious business.

You were playing club rugby in France when you were picked for the All Blacks. How did you enjoy your time in France?

It was a very, very big eye-opener. Every country you go to has its quirks; but France was something else. At our first game, all the forwards starting inserting cricket boxes in their underwear before they ran on the field. The first scrum broke up with the traditional punch-up. Except they didn’t punch; they all stood back and kicked each other; hence the cricket boxes.

They had an unusual way of starting a game from the kick off: tell me about that?

Yes – they would just tip the ball off the kicking tee. So because it hadn’t’ gone ten yards the ref would blow for a scrum. Then they would have a punch up. So they started most of their games with a fight. We also had this bloody great big lock, Olivier whose speciality was a haymaker through the scrum on anyone he could reach. He had a fist the size of my head. The one time he hit me in the chest by mistake and he damn nearly killed me. I was just relieved he never hit me on the nose.

Did you learn to speak French while you were there?

(Says in French:) ‘I speak French like a Spanish cow’ (laughs); I guess I could get by. But I’ve kept in touch with a lot of the guys I played with and at the last World Cup we all had a reunion in Paris, which was nice. Also some of their sons have come over to New Zealand and I have been able to sort a couple of them out with games with club sides. My daughter, Jess rows for New Zealand and when she went over to row in France, all my ex-player mates wined and dined her and looked after her fantastically.

You have another daughter and a son?

Yeah, Olivia and Duke; Olivia also rows, although she is younger than Jess so she is still in the age groups.

And your son; is he a rugby player?

He plays rugby but he has to kick into gear a bit. He’s only fifteen and weighs the same as me and is about two inches taller; so he is going to be a big lad.

Who was the hardest player you ever come up against?

I think I could match most of the guys I came up against and hope I caused some of them a few problems. But the toughest guy I ever played against was in a provincial game. He was a Samoan, Peter Fatilope (sp?). ‘Fatty,’ was physically the strongest guy I ever met – I reckon if he went for it he could easily have killed someone. But talking about your boys (Springboks), I remember Robbie Kempson and John Allen. John was wee bit aggro and even though Rob wasn’t a big bugger, he was a pocket rocket.

Once on a skiing trip in Saalbach, I saw Robbie arm wrestle and lose to a skinny guy; which surprised me.

Ah it should be clear mate; you don’t do arm wrestling at the bottom of a ruck. I once said to Laurie Mains, I’ve never seen a dumbbell in a ruck – when I do, I’ll start training with them…

You got suspended for eye-gouging. What is your version of what happened?

You are right; I was suspended for eye-gouging. But the truth is I didn’t set out to eye gouge anyone. Yes I was trying to pull the other player out of the ruck by his head, but I wasn’t’ trying to get his eyeball out of its socket. If truth be known, I’ve probably been eye gouged ten times worse by many players, from many countries and nothing happened to them. If you are in a ruck, all sorts of things happen; it’s not a tea party. I accepted my suspension. But it didn’t worry me as I was certainly no worse than any of the other players and as I say; I never set out to eye gouge anyone.

You riled Springbok Johann Roux to the point he bit Sean Fitzpatrick’s ear – presumably that was your purpose?

Yeah, playing with Fitzy (Sean Fitzpatrick) was interesting. I would rile these guys and antagonise them and then Fitzy in a patronising voice would say, ‘Ah you can’t say that Loey, that’s not fair…’ or ‘Don’t say that Loey you’ll upset them…’ and, ‘No Loey, that’s dirty…’ This usually got them even madder. But that incident you mention was a test in Wellington. I was Fitzy’s prop, so I saw his ear straight after the alleged incident and I didn’t see any blood, let alone tooth marks…

So why was there such a fuss made about it?

Because Fitzy reacted – it didn’t look good on the replays. Bit like the replays of my supposed eye gouging incident. It didn’t look good, so they made a big fuss of it. Mind you I should say it was quite fun the times I played against Fitzy. Because then I could give him as good as he had been dishing out to everyone else, which was always good for a laugh.

What happened when you got off the field after the game?

We’d have a beer and laugh about it.

There was also a story with you and Rodriguez who played No. 8 for France. What happened there?

In a test against France he played at lock and he came through the scrum with a haymaker and hit me in the chest. Again it was a good thing it wasn’t anywhere else, because it also damn nearly split me in two.

Did you get him back?

Well a couple of weeks later we were playing against his team in a club game and I found him at the bottom of a ruck. So I rucked his shorts right off his backside and I think I even drew a bit of blood. After the game he said to me, ‘So are we even now?’ And I said to him, ‘No – what goes on in a test match stays in a test match – that was just a club game (laughs).’ But I saw him at the last World Cup in France and we had a couple of beers and a good laugh about it all.

When you lined up to scrum you would sometimes intimidate your opposite prop by standing on his foot. Tell me about that.

(Laughs), Yeah… not always. But sometimes I would stand on the guy’s foot as though I wasn’t actually aware I was doing it. They wouldn’t want to show me I was bothering them, so they wouldn’t do or say anything. When you think about those boots we used to wear, with few and long studs, it must have been absolutely bloody agony to have me drilling holes in their feet. You’d see a couple of them sweating or going red in the face, but they would never say anything. Of course they would keep their feet well away from mine at the next scrum. Remember, the front-row are the only three guys on the field who can attack each other without having the ball.

Your ‘brutish’ history aside, you now do a fair bit of work for the media?

I have a rugby column for The Herald (in New Zealand) on Sundays. It’s more an opinion than a direct match report. Also I do some commentary on TV – but it’s more reviewing the games and giving my views than direct commentating. It’s no different from having a couple of beers in the pub and an old-timer comes up and says, ‘What did you think of the game?’ I also do a rural programme on the radio every day for an hour; but that is mainly agricultural.

You’re a farmer?

Yes, I was predominantly sheep farming, but now I do a bit of cropping and cattle; although, I’ve still got some South African sheep on the farm.

Ex-All Black and now coach of Australia, Robbie Deans grew up with you in your hometown; how did you feel about him going to the Wallabies?

It was sad to see him go over there, but he didn’t really have any choice. I am a Robbie Deans’ supporter and always have been.

Thank you for giving me your time and I think I should mention, you are not as scary as I expected; you’re more a big, friendly teddy bear.

You’ve summed me up perfectly mate… (laughs).

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