Pat Vincent was truly a renaissance man. Not only was he an athlete, but he was a favored educator, professional musician and a constant comic relief.
Born in New Zealand on January 6, 1926 as the youngest of nine children, Vincent's asthma was present even in his earliest years, and it forced his family to move to the dryer climate of Christchurch. There he attended Christchurch Boys' High School (CBHS), a place that held a substantial role in his life. Upon graduation from Christchurch Teachers' College and then Canterbury University, Vincent returned to CBHS, where he was a beloved history and geography master for twenty years.
Outside of the classroom, Vincent was the Captain of the Canterbury Province rugby team that took possession of the coveted Ranfurly Shield in 1953. This is the greatest prize in NZ provincial rugby. Once won, every match is a sudden-death defense of the shield, and Vincent captained twenty-three of twenty-five challenge games, holding onto the “Log ‘o Wood” for an impressive three years.
Vincent had been overlooked by the All Black selectors on multiple occasions, but he was extremely popular with players and the public, largely because he was a team man. After he captained the 1956 South Island Team to a win over the All Blacks, Vincent was finally selected, to not only be an All Black, but to be their Captain.
He played as the All Black's fullback for two tests against the South African Springboks. The first match was won by NZ, but the Springboks hadn't lost two tests in a row since 1896, and their streak would continue.
Unfortunately, Vincent was the fall man for the loss, and he was dropped from the team. Though his All Black career was brief, he is one of four men to hold the distinction of captaining every All Black game in which he played.
At the end of the 1956 season, Vincent hung up his boots and retired as a NZ player. He was the first man to play in 100 games for Canterbury, ending his career at 102. A member of the press wrote: "Because of the comparative brevity of the game, and because of its hurly-burly atmosphere, Rugby football does not thrust up characters as cricket does, but Vincent is an exception. The game has gained as much from his personality as from his play: both are exceptional." (p.41)
Since childhood Vincent had been fascinated with America. Upon his retirement from playing, Vincent received a scholarship to complete his master's degree in American history at the University of Cal Berkeley in 1957. This was his first time to the US, and it was a long awaited journey.
He played on the Cal rugby team during the 1957 season. The game he knew so well was different in America. In a letter to friend Robin Stubbersfield, Vincent commented on American rugby: “The rugby is ragged- forwards are all hard- the gridiron influence. The back play is not as clever but determined” (106).
After completing his master's, Vincent traveled back to NZ. Though he no longer played there, he remained heavily involved in the game, first as a selector and coach for Canterbury, 1959-1962, and then as the 1966 and '67 President of Christchurch Secondary Schools' RFU.
Away from the pitch, Vincent continued teaching, but he had always carried a passion for music. He loved to sing, and would do so for hours on tour busses or upon any invitation at a party or bar. A former student approached him to become a professional jazz singer, and he released several successful albums, and held regular appearances at a cabaret.
He was a NZ rugby favorite, a provincial icon, a beloved teacher and a successful jazz singer. Vincent left it all behind to return to the Bay Area in 1967, where he lived for the rest of his life.
Soon he began to coach for Saint Mary's College of California (SMC). It was a small school with a small rugby program- just able to field one team. Under Vincent's leadership the sport exploded, and soon the Gales had six teams. People had to be turned away from rugby because it was affecting other sports programs at the small college. Everyone wanted to play rugby, and everyone wanted to play for Vincent.
Annual Easter-time tours, either international or domestic, became an SMC rugby tradition that continues to this day. Vincent promoted the tours for the camaraderie they built and for the educational and cultural experiences that they brought to the participants. He believed that you had to meet people in their own environments to broaden your horizons.
Perhaps Vincent's favorite tour was the 1980 tour he brought to NZ. The group was huge, with 108 participants. They played nine games, many against universities, but he made sure to include a game with his alma matter, CBHS. The Gales had a 2-6-1 record for the tour. A loosing record was of little concern to Vincent, because he wanted the boys to play against great teams so that they would in turn learn to play great rugby. He was markedly annoyed when CBHS fielded their second side and the Gales easily won the game. They were there to learn.
After five years of coaching for SMC, Vincent was appointed to the Athletic Department in 1973. He became a member of the faculty and held many roles besides the one of coach. He was heavily involved in student life, as a director of the Student Union and a counselor in the residence halls. His sense of humor endeared him to both staff and students.
Outside of the College, he was the President of the Northern California Rugby Union, 1973-76, a charter signer and Founder of USA Rugby, 1975, and a Governor of the US Union, 1975-77. He also coached and then managed the combined Northern and Southern California team, called the Grizzlies, that represented the state on tours in Canada and New Zealand.
In addition to the important roles he played in the US national rugby scene, he also wrote coaching manuals that were of great assistance to the sport, e.g. “Rugby Football for Americans.” A look at his “How To Make A Half Back From Nothing' illustrates his famous sense of humor and interesting perspective, while giving a little insight into his coaching philosophy.
How To Make A Halfback From Nothing
By Pat B. Vincent, St. Mary's College
- Look for physique, 5'7-8”, 140-160 pounds
- Hope that he has an athletic background. (My best prospective is a sophomore who won a wrestling scholarship to Cal)
- Hope that he is confident, almost cocky in attitude so that he will learn to direct things
- Erase any habits he may carry over from previous sports, e.g. Basketball, forward throw off the chest. When a Player makes a bad option I call out “Idiot!” They can then judge their progress by the number of “Idiots” they incur during a game.
- Play games at practice a lot. You have to teach the whole game, rules, attitude, techniques, tactics, positional play, all the time.
- Bring them along in an orderly manner of progression.
- Do not expect too much, too soon.
- Involve them in how teams are selected and built, give them responsibility. I usually make the scrum half captain or vice captain and involve them in organizing the team.
- Encourage them.
- Try to give them a good trip a year, especially for their senior year in the first fifteen.
- They must enjoy what they are doing. (p.115)
Vincent's advice on making a halfback should be heeded, because he was one- he was a great NZ halfback. In fact, upon the century of the Canterbury Rugby Union, the newspaper, The Christchurch Star, conducted a competition to select the best players from the province since 1945. Chosen by the judging panel and the readers, Vincent was honored by being named the Canterbury halfback of the century.
Having been afflicted with asthma his entire life, Vincent accomplished an astounding amount that required the strength of his lungs. Unfortunately, on a flight returning from an SMC Easter tour in Europe, Vincent suffered an asthma attack. He passed away at the untimely age of 57.
His funeral was the largest SMC had seen, and he is remembered to this day by the Gales. Their coach gathers the team at the beginning of every new year and talks about the legacy of Pat Vincent. They honor him by playing up to standards by which he would be proud on the Patrick Vincent Memorial Field.