To celebrate Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand, Wellington artist Maurice Bennett has created huge portraits of the men he believes to be the five greatest rugby players of all time.
Using his favoured medium of toast slices, Bennett has produced works depicting Colin Meads, Gareth Edwards, Danie Craven, Jean-Pierre Rives and Richie McCaw.
Each portrait is 2.4 metres by 1.9 metres, contains around 4,000 slices of precisely burned toast and took almost a month to complete.
The protraits will be on show in Wellington as a ‘A Game of Two Halves’ during the rugby tournament.
Well-known for his toast portraits of celebrities including Sir Peter Jackson, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and American President Barack Obama, Bennett said he felt an obligation to mark the largest sporting event this country has ever hosted.
“I am a proud New Zealander with a passion for our national game. I wanted to create unique artworks to showcase the rugby players I consider the greatest of all time. I know it is hard to compare between positions and across eras, but I chose players for their on-field and off-field contributions to the game,” he said.
“I know there will be some controversy over my selections - there always will be with any lists of this nature. I have selected two New Zealanders which probably reflects my patriotism but both picks are hard to argue with.”
Danie Craven was undoubtedly a polarising figure in New Zealand though an objective consideration of his playing, coaching and administrative record marked him as one of the all-time greats, Bennett said.
“I have included three forwards and two inside backs, reflecting the fact that I have not gone for the flashy players out wide. There are no Australians simply because, while they produced many great sides, I don’t consider any of their individual players were better than the five I picked.”
Four of the five players toasted were inductees into the first International Rugby Hall of Fame in 1997.
Bennett is confident that Richie McCaw, the only current player to be depicted, will quickly join them when his playing career eventually comes to a close.
Game of Two Halves
The five toast portraits will be part of the ‘A Game of Two Halves’ exhibition at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts in Wellington from 10 September to 16 October, 2011.
The exhibition is part of the REAL New Zealand Festival which will incorporate more than 1000 events throughout New Zealand during the rugby tournament.
Toasting rugby’s greatest
Maurice Bennett explains his picks:
Colin Meads - “Pinetree” is a New Zealand institution and I have been fortunate to have a drink with him once or twice. For over a decade, he personified All Blacks rugby and his 55 tests over 15 seasons was the record here until 1991. He was a big man but what set him apart was his skill and intensity. Most people know him as a lock but he also played at flanker and number eight. His first test try was scored while he was covering the wing.
Richie McCaw - McCaw is the only current player on my list and the only one not in the Rugby International Rugby Hall of Fame. That will happen shortly after he retires so I’m really just getting in early picking him now. In just his 10th season he is already approaching 100 tests and has the highest winning rate of any All Black (87.7%). In 57 tests as captain, he had 50 wins and has been named IRB rugby player of the year three times (2006, 2009, and 2010). More than any statistics however, I have never seen a player who threw themselves at the line so many times. He leads by example and that can change any game.
Gareth Edwards - He scored the most-watched try of all time when he started and finished a sweeping move by the Barbarians against the All Blacks in 1973. Edwards played 63 tests (53 for Wales, 10 for the Lions) and remarkably all were played without ever being dropped or missing a match injured. He was a fair-sized halfback in the 60s and 70s who constantly improved his passing and kicking. He was technically brilliant, a huge personality and a national talisman during a golden age of Welsh rugby.
Danie Craven - I know this will be my most controversial choice because Craven has a mixed reputation among New Zealand rugby fans. As a player, he debuted for his country before representing his province. He played just 16 test matches over seven years but was a brilliant talent who played scrumhalf, first five, centre and number eight for South Africa. Craven popularised (but did not invent) the dive pass which revolutionised the halfback position. He was an innovative coach and a determined administrator who was at the top of South African rugby when it moved into the post-Apartheid multi-racial era.
Jean-Pierre Rives - Rives played 59 tests for France between 1975 and 1984, 34 of them as captain which was the record at the time. As a flanker, he was always dwarfed by his opponents but his ferocity and competitiveness saw him excel on attack and defence, as well as the challenging role of leading an often mercurial French side. His greatest win was the upset victory over the All Blacks at Auckland on Bastille Day 1979. I was in the crowd that day. Off the field, Rives is a bit of a bohemian with a passion and talent for sculpting. As a fellow artist, I admire him all the more for that.
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