Sean Fitzpatrick recalls the day Gary Halpin gave the All Blacks the finger

'He was such a great personality and I find it hard to believe that he’s gone at only 55 years old. What a character!'
Sean Fitzpatrick recalls the day Gary Halpin gave the All Blacks the finger

After scoring a try against New Zealand at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, Gary Halpin gives All Blacks players the finger. He later revealed that it was directed at Sean FitzPatrick.

Sean Fitzpatrick interrupted a family holiday in New Zealand last night to talk about Gary Halpin and the "ballistic missile" incident.

The colourful Ireland prop who died suddenly this week confessed long ago that the double-handed middle-finger rant immediately after scoring his try against them during the 1995 World Cup had been aimed at the All Blacks’ captain.

"Sean Fitzpatrick had been winding us up, calling us Paddies," Halpin said over the incident which happened eight minutes into Ireland’s opening match of the tournament at Ellis Park. "He was a great player and all that but every time I see him, I still want to give him the finger."

Fitzpatrick, whose holiday had to be delayed by a fortnight’s quarantine following his arrival from London where he relocated more than 10 years ago, spoke with a mixture of shock, sorrow, admiration and incredulity.

"I feel a real sense of sadness at Gary’s passing," he said. "He was such a great personality and I find it hard to believe that he’s gone at only 55 years old. What a character! I’ve never forgotten the try he got against us and probably never will.

"Those were the good old days when we’d have a drink together and a chuckle about what happened on the field. As Gary said himself, he wanted to have a crack at us and good on him. As for me supposedly winding the Irish up, that’s ironic. I’m probably more Irish than Gary was because of where my ancestors came from."

They came from Clonmore in Co Tipperary, coincidentally some 50 miles from another part of the county in Roscrea where Halpin had been on the staff of the Cistercian College as head of boarding. New Zealand’s most famous hooker knows all about the family’s genealogy.

"My grandfather, Sean, emigrated from Ireland in the 1920’s along with one of his brothers, Paddy. There was no room in the house in Tipperary so the two were sent off to the far side of the world and there was never any realistic chance of going back.

"The country in those days was in the process of being built. My grandfather and his brother went straight to work building a road. They had to earn the money to pay for their boat fare and that’s how they earned it. A case of tough love."

The original Kiwi Fitzpatricks helped create one of the country’s best-loved beauty spots, the Waioeka Gorge between Opotiki and Gisborne in the Bay of Plenty on the North Island.

Brian Fitzpatrick, son of Sean senior and father of Sean junior, was born in Opotiki in 1931. A Test centre, he played 22 times for the All Blacks, then watched his son win the inaugural World Cup in 1987.

Eight years later in South Africa, where his son overtook Colin Meads as the most-capped All Black, Fitzpatrick’s father would have been watching from afar when Halpin smashed through two-thirds of the opposition back row.

It took the Kiwis full half an hour to recover from the shock of his fearless attempt to ruin ‘Fitzy’s’ big day.

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