85 | John Kirwan - Greatest Kiwi of All Time 2023

85 | John Kirwan - Greatest Kiwi of All Time 2023

Greatest Kiwi Of All Time: No. 85 - John Kirwan (New entry)

22nd May 1987.  John Kirwan, the number 14 emblazoned on the back of his black jersey, dots down for an 80-metre try against Italy in the opening game at the first Rugby World Cup.  The All Blacks had never before cracked 50 in a test match against any team.  The final score was 70 points to 6, and key to that emphatic victory, 23-year-old John Kirwan.

John “JK” Kirwan was born in Auckland in 1964, attending De La Salle College and playing footy for Marist Brothers Old Boys.  His dad was a butcher, he would work in the old man’s butcher’s shop.  Rugby was not the only game in his blood, his grandfather Jack Kirwan had played rugby league for the Kiwis.

In his first season with Marist Seniors in 1983, Kirwan would be selected to play for Auckland.  John Hart was coach.  Grant Fox was first-five.  

It would be the golden era of Auckland rugby, they would dominate the balance of the 80s winning both the NPC and Ranfurly Shield.  It wasn’t long before the All Black selectors came calling.

JK debuted in black in 1984.  Over the next ten years, he would appear in 63 test matches for New Zealand - he was a try-scoring machine and would help the All Blacks to a 23-test unbeaten run from 1987 to 1990, including winning the inaugural Rugby World Cup.

All-in-all Kirwan scored 35 test tries for the All Blacks, including 10 in five tests against Wales and Australia in 1988.  He would go down as one of our best.

Then, at age 30, Kirwan changed codes.  He signed up for the new Auckland Warriors in their debut season.  Further stints would come coaching in Italy, and, back home for Auckland as the coach of the Blues in 2013.

After his playing career was over, Kirwan would speak openly about his battles with depression and mental illness.  He established a foundation to help young people with mental illness and launch a mental well-being app.  He would be knighted for services to rugby and mental health in 2012.

Sir John Kirwan.  Mental health advocate.  Legendary rugby player and coach… and one of Today FM’s Greatest Kiwis of All Time.