Eric Alexander Watson, who was known to many in rugby circles as Bugle, was born on 20 July 1925 in Dunedin and became head coach of the All Blacks in 1979 after long stints with Otago and the Junior All Blacks.
“It is with real sadness that we mark the passing of Eric Watson,” New Zealand Rugby chairman Brent Impey told the All Blacks’ official website.
“Eric made a huge contribution as head hoach of the All Blacks, Junior All Blacks and Otago and was a big part of rugby for a long time. He remained a stalwart supporter of rugby after retiring, continuing to turn out on the sidelines for many years.
“We know that he will be fondly remembered around New Zealand this week and in particular by the Otago community and the players he coached. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.”
An enthusiastic and skilful sportsman, Watson represented Otago in both cricket (1949-1960) and as a fly-half in rugby (1945-1946). He became an Otago selector/coach in 1962 and remained in that role until 1971.
In 1972, he began his seven seasons with the Junior All Blacks, which included the team’s historic 14-10 win over the All Blacks in Dunedin, as well as taking on a role as South Island selector from 1973 to 1979 and serving on the Otago RFU management committee from 1973-1980.
Watson, who was a self-employed signwriter away from rugby, was appointed to the All Blacks head coach role in 1979 and started his tenure with a win over France. He coached the team for two seasons, stepping down at the end of 1980 after leading the All Blacks to a 23-3 victory over Wales, in what was that Union’s Centenary Test.
Through his involvement with the Junior All Blacks and the All Blacks, Watson had a tremendous influence on New Zealand players in the 1970s and early 1980s.
He remained passionately committed to his Zingari-Richmond club and was made a Life Member of the club in recognition of his service as a player, coach and administrator.
He continued to follow Otago and Highlanders rugby enthusiastically and was inducted to the Otago Rugby Hall of Fame in 2013.