New Zealand rugby union great Brian Lochore touches the coffin of fellow player Colin Meads during his funeral in Te Kuiti, New Zealand, August 28, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Hannah Peters/Pool

WELLINGTON – New Zealand rugby was in mourning yesterday after All Black great Brian Lochore died of cancer aged 78.

Lochore, who captained New Zealand in 18 Tests during their golden era of the 1960s and coached the All Blacks to the inaugural World Cup title in 1987, died on Saturday, New Zealand Rugby (NZR) said in a statement.

“It is with great sadness and grief that we announce that Sir Brian succumbed to his battle with cancer,” NZR chief executive Steve Tew said.

“We have lost a genuine legend of our country, an unwavering figure on the field, and a highly-respected figure off it. His family has lost a devoted husband, father and grandfather and for many of us, a great friend.

“It is not over-stating the facts to say that Sir Brian Lochore was the saviour of New Zealand rugby on several occasions and many of us have lost a great mate.”

Lochore had never played No 8 before he was selected for the 1963-64 New Zealand tour of Europe but he made the position his own in 68 games in the famous black shirt, 25 of them Tests.

He was appointed captain of the team in 1966 by coach Fred Allen ahead of more experienced players like Colin Meads and Kel Tremain and led the team through a long unbeaten run when they were regarded as the unofficial world champions.

Lochore retired in 1970 following a tour of South Africa, but was called back into an injury-ravaged side for the 1971 Test series against the British & Irish Lions.

He answered the call, of course, famously leaving a note for his wife on their refrigerator saying “gone to Wellington, playing the Test tomorrow”.