Less than three months after Kiwis great Tom Hadfield passed away, New Zealand Rugby League’s other Team of the Century winger, Kiwi #475 Phillip Orchard, has died.
Orchard played 21 Tests on the flank for New Zealand from 1969-75, equalling Hadfield’s then-record of 15 tries. His total of 40 tries in all matches for the Kiwis remains a record.
The Bay of Plenty rep – debuting at just 16 years old – starred for the Ngongotaha Chiefs alongside his three brothers, 18-Test prop Robert, Eddie and John.
Phil Orchard scored a 40-metre try on Test debut in 1969, an 18-14 upset of Australia at Carlaw Park, by crashing through the tackles of green-and-gold champions Graeme Langlands and Ron Coote. It was the first of a remarkable 10 touchdowns in his first seven internationals for the Kiwis.
After missing the famous 24-3 win over the Aussies midway through 1971, Orchard played a key role in the Kiwis’ ‘Grand Slam’ success later that year. He scored a try in the first Test against Great Britain at Salford, then bagged a double in the series-sealing victory in the second Test at Castleford.
Orchard’s stellar finishing was a feature of New Zealand’s subsequent foray in France, crossing for a hat-trick at Perpignan and a brace at Carcassonne as the Kiwis again wrapped up the series inside two Tests.
Difficult to contain with his 90kg frame, big thighs and ample speed, Orchard finished the tour with the stunning, record-shattering total of 27 tries in just 19 appearances.
Orchard moved to Wellington in 1972 and became a prolific scorer for the St George club, as well as a regular for his new province. The strong, tough winger was a Kiwis mainstay for the away series against Australia and the equally disappointing World Cup campaign that year, scoring two tries in a 20-9 loss to France.
He stood down from representative football for the next two years but returned to play all eight of New Zealand’s 1975 World Championship matches (one of only four players to do so), adding another three tries to his Test tally – including a memorable match-winner in a gutsy 13-8 result against Wales at Carlaw Park.
Orchard also crossed in the return clash with Wales, a 25-24 loss in a spiteful Swansea affair, to draw level with the legendary Hadfield on 15 tries in his final Test appearance for the Kiwis.
Orchard returned to the Bay of Plenty after hanging up the boots and was inducted to the NZRL Legends of League in 2001, along with Jock Butterfield and Charlie Seeling.
Six years later he ousted the likes of Dane O’Hara, long-time wing partner Mocky Brereton, Vern Bakalich, Brian Reidy, Sean Hoppe and Lesley Vainikolo to be named in the NZ Team of the Century with Hadfield. He was also named in the Wellington Rugby League Team of the Century in 2012.
RIP to a true Kiwis legend.
PHILLIP ORCHARD – INTERNATIONAL RECORD
New Zealand (1969-75): 21 Tests – 15 tries (45 points); 47 matches – 40 tries (120 points).