Kevin "Monkey" Briscoe (1936 - 2009)
Though somewhat taller than the 5ft 3 and a half inches to which he has been attributed in some histories, Kevin Briscoe was a short, stocky halfback who was a fully combatitive competitor whether playing for Taranaki or the All Blacks.
Briscoe, however, had the ill luck to have a career which coincided with the arrival in the early 1960s of the great Australian Des Connor in New Zealand rugby. Even though Connor had been a Wallaby there were no international regulations at the time and eligibility for New Zealand depended simply on being a resident of the country and being a registered member of a club here.
So after establishing himself as the All Blacks' first choice halfback on the 1960 tour of South Africa, where he played with distinction in all four tests, Briscoe in 1961 found himself displaced by Conner for the tests against France.
Briscoe was in the squad but only as a reserve and he again understudied Connor for the 1962 tour of Australia and in the domestic tests against the Wallabies the same year. Connor was a surprise omission for the 1963-64 tour of Britain and France and Briscoe not only regained his number one spot at halfback but was the team's vice captain as well.
But by then another outstanding halfback Chris Laidlaw was emerging and for the international against France Briscoe was replaced by the then 20-year old and never recaptured his All Black spot despite remaining a fine player for Taranaki, especially in the province's 1963-65 Ranfurly Shield era.
Briscoe, even before making the All Blacks, was well used to having to overcome strong competition for a starting XV. In Taranaki his contemporary was another All Black halfback in Roger Urbahn.
There were frequent debates in Taranaki over their respective talents and one letter to a New Plymouth newspaper alleging a bias towards Briscoe by the then national selector Jack Sullivan because he belonged to his Tukapa club almost brought legal action.
Briscoe made the Taranaki representative team as a 20-year in 1957 and had played few first class games when chosen for the New Zealand under 23 team's tour of Japan early in 1958. For most of this period, including the 1957-59 shield reign, Taranaki preferred Urbahn, particularly because of his combination with his club-mate, Bill Cameron.
In 1959 Urbahn played three of the four tests against the British Lions but was replaced for the second test by Briscoe. Both Taranaki halfbacks then went on the 1960 tour of South Africa and it was there that Briscoe, with a more robust style of play, first gained an edge over Urbahn which was to last for the remainder of each man's career.
Off the field the two were firm friends. Briscoe, who was nicknamed "Monkey," was, despite many knocks and tribulations, a cheerful personality and a popular team man. With Ross Brown, Briscoe was the star of the Taranaki shield era of 1963-65 and while he never played for the All Blacks again after the tour of 1963-64 he continued to be highly ranked at national level. He played for the North Island for a third time in 1965 and was in the All Black squad as a reserve for all four tests that year against the Springboks.
Profile by Lindsay Knight
for the New Zealand Rugby Museum.