The 1968 Waikato rugby union team that faced France in Hamilton. Wren Bartram is in the middle row, first on the right.
Former Te Awamutu United and Waikato rugby representative #577 Wren Bartram had many claims to fame in his short rugby career, including a nomination for an All Blacks test in 1967.
Born in Johnsonville, Wellington
in 1942, Bartram was part of a multi-generation railroad family that moved around town extensively.
“I think the most time we had in one place was four years, so it was quite [transitory] parenting from that point of view,” says Wren.
“It was the nature of the beast in those days, and I don’t think it did anybody much harm.”
Wren was a “small and slim built” hockey player, only playing a bit of schoolboy rugby while at Taihape District Grammar School before dropping out when the family moved to Whanganui.
There, he joined the fourth grade Kaierau Rugby Football Club team while looking for an apprentice position as an engine mechanic.
He was unable to find an apprenticeship position in Whanganui, so he moved to Te Awamutu, where he worked at Kirk’s Garage, a Volkswagen dealership (now on Dixon St) on Alexandra St.
“Through friends, any sports club was always a great social activity. I got involved with the third grade Te Awamutu United team and it took off from there,” he says.
“I had played running back for Kaierau and I thought I was pretty good. Te Awamutu United’s third grade coach was Don Stevenson who went on to coach the Te Awamutu Sub-Union team. He asked me in what position [I was]. ‘Proudly a runner,’ I let him know. So, I had my first start and I lasted about 15 minutes before he had me on the wing. After the game, he told me how useless I was as a running back.”
Wren went on to play extensively at center and forward after that, representing Te Awamutu United at all grades from 1959 to 1968, as well as the Te Awamutu Rugby Sub-Union team from 1963 to 1968.
“We held [the Peace Cup] at the end of  after beating Maniapoto, and it was the first time the Te Awamutu Sub-Union name was inscribed on it.
“The rugby sub-union in Te Awamutu during that era reflected the quality of rugby being played at that level. That was a great period for me.”
His first big break came in 1964 when he was selected into the Waikato Colts (Under-21) and Waikato XV squads, playing again for the Colts the following season along with the Waikato B team before representing the Waikato senior team, mainly as second . five eighth, from 1966 to 1968.
“Among all of those were invitational games, with the likes of Harlequins, Wasps, Corinthians and Colin Meads’ Invitational XV,” says Wren.
“My senior team call-up was being flown to Canterbury as a replacement, and I got there in an old DC-3 20 minutes before the game to play the entire game. It was quite an initiation. It went from there: I stayed with the team for the next few years, playing some 23 games, including an international one. [a 13-8 loss against France in 1968].”
In this match against France, Wren was the only Waikato player to cross the try line.
“The only other claim to fame is an All Black nomination for the trial in 1967. I didn’t get there, but being nominated was very nice to me.”
Although Wren was not originally from the Te Awamutu area, it had been his rugby home and the making of his career on the field, with players such as Stevenson and Te Awamutu Rugby Sub-Union Chairman Harold Sherwin having had A great impact.
“Harold always hit for the subunion in all shapes and forms. He admired him immensely. He was a big supporter of players who showed a bit of skill. He was always fighting for them to get wild card games – they were pretty important stepping stones for recognition and play among high level players. They not only improved your game, but they taught you a lot.”
In 1969, Wren and his young family moved to Te Puke so that he could take over as manager of services.
After a season with the United Pirates Rugby Sports Club and an invitation to join the Bay of Plenty rugby team, it was “time to hang up his boots” at 27 due to work and family commitments.
After retirement, he remained a keen rugby spectator and enjoyed playing squash.
His career had many highlights, including playing for the Waikato Colts in an opening game during the 1965 Springbok tour, the 1968 game against the French, and of course the Ranfurly Shield clashes.
“The Ranfurly Shield was such an important trophy to not only challenge, but obviously retain. It was life or death.
“Unfortunately, Waikato lost it to Hawke’s Bay, who had the likes of All Blacks Ian MacRae and Bill Davis, but their incredible spell of possession of the Ranfurly Shield began. [for 21 defences].”
Wren moved to Hamilton after leaving Te Puke in 1970 and gave up the mechanics trade in 1978.
From there, he transitioned into capital equipment sales, continuing to rise through the ranks, ending up as an area sales manager for machinery in Hamilton after time in Auckland with Cable Price.
These days, he still resides in Hamilton and enjoys spending time with his family.
He says that his inspiration to play rugby was camaraderie and character building.
“The friendships you make are lifelong friendships, but you probably don’t realize it at the time. It’s a great sport. Any team sport helps you develop as a young person,” says Wren.
He says that rugby is very similar to life.
“You can stay in a room, but unless you open the door and see what’s on the other side and get involved, you won’t get very far.”