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Last Updated: Monday, 29 September, 2003, 09:00 GMT 10:00 UK
On top of the world
By Andrew McKenzie
BBC Sport

All Black hooker Sean Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick was a winner in 1987
Some sportsmen spend their whole career trying to get to the top and fail.

For Sean Fitzpatrick it happened quicker than even he could ever have imagined.

The New Zealand hooker made his international debut shortly after his 23rd birthday.

Less than a year later he was part of the All Black side that lifted the inaugural World Cup.

"When I made my debut in 1986 I was a young kid and just happy to learn from Andy Dalton," he told this website.

"But unfortunately he got injured just before the first game of the World Cup and never came right for the rest of the tour.

"So I ended up playing all six games and for me it was just incredible to be part of a World Cup-winning side.

"In those early days we didn't really know what it meant. It was the first World Cup so to get our name on the mug first was pretty special and no-one can ever take that away from us.

"It was in New Zealand and Australia and the All Blacks had never toured New Zealand before so to do that made it extra special."

We had never won a tour on South African soil so to do that in 1996 was sensational
New Zealand had gone into the tournament as outsiders having struggled the previous year when they had suffered defeats to Australia and France.

"We had a pretty average 1986 so the way we looked at it was we just started with Italy and worked our way through," Fitzpatrick added.

The All Blacks did more than "work their way through".

They followed up their 70-6 win crushing of Italy with comfortable wins against Fiji and Argentina.

They scored 190 points in the three group games and carried on their heavy scoring as they saw off Scotland, Wales and France on the way to lifting the trophy.

And they did not stop there as they remained unbeaten for the next three years.

"We were fortunate in that we had a fantastic team from 1987 which carried into the 1990s," he said. "It was one of the best teams I've been involved in and we had a lot of success.

"We had a team full of world class players. I always judge world class players as ones who would get into a world team and we probably had 10 or 11 players who would have got into a world team at the time."

All Black hooker Sean Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick's finest moment came in 1996

The World Cup may be viewed as the pinnacle of the game these days, but Fitzpatrick says their Test series win in South Africa in 1996 ranks higher in his considerable list of achievements.

"In terms of rugby for the purist, for us New Zealanders beating South Africa is always so important," he added. "We had never won a tour on South African soil so to do that in 1996 was sensational.

"To see grown All Blacks of 70 or 80 years old crying when we got back and saying 'thank you so much for achieving it before I died' was very memorable.

"That meant a lot to me and being the captain of the team was quite amazing.

"We don't tour at the moment so it may never happen again - I hope it will but it's one thing that may never be repeated."





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