Keith Murdoch: The most enigmatic, controversial and tragic All Black

WATCH: Jordie Barrett's conversion from an impossible angle (0:10)

The All Blacks' Jordie Barrett showed off his impressive skills to convert a goal kick from a near impossible angle. (0:10)

Rugby lives come in many shapes and forms, but few stranger than that of All Black prop Keith Murdoch, who has died aged 74.

He played only three Tests, but the conclusion of that brief trajectory and its extraordinary aftermath left a legend outweighing much longer careers.

Immensely powerful and, at 238 pounds -- large by the standards of the times -- he appeared when he emerged with Otago at 20 in 1964 to be potentially the next in the line of hugely dominant All Black props epitomised by Kevin Skinner and Ken Gray.

Where Skinner had the intense self-discipline of the fine boxer he had once been and Gray a mature sophistication evident in principled opposition to contact with apartheid-era South Africa, Murdoch had an uncontrolled wild man quality which made him still scarier, but was also ultimately his downfall.

His was an oddly stop-start career. He was a regular in All Black trials, but took years to break into the team. When he did make the tour to South Africa in 1970, he was sidelined by illness and only played in the final Test.

The following year he might have made a significant difference to an All Black front row unable to achieve the expected dominance over the touring, unprecedentedly victorious Lions. But he never played against them, a series of withdrawals both puzzling and frustrating the All Black selectors.

A reputation for off-field wildness pursued him onto the All Black tour of Britain, Ireland and France in 1972, but all of that unfulfilled potential came together on the afternoon of Dec. 2 in the first international, at Cardiff.

Wales, in the early stages of their second acknowledged Golden Age, reckoned to have their best chance of beating the Blacks since their last victory in 1953. But their chances were effectively destroyed by a hugely dominant first-half display by the tourists, who led 13-3 at the interval.

Murdoch was at the heart of that effort, claiming New Zealand's try as he picked up to drive across from close range at the front of a forward rush which commentator Bill McLaren likened to "a great All Black blanket." It was 19-16 at the end, following a valiant Welsh comeback in which memories of a disallowed JPR Williams 'try' and All Black obstructions still resonate with Wales fans old enough to remember.

Failure to beat the All Blacks remains the single asterisk against the greatness of that Welsh era, with Murdoch entitled to a significant part of the credit for the 64-years-and-counting sequence of New Zealand victories which continues to this day.

But it all came apart in the early hours of the following day. A violent incident in the Angel Hotel with a security guard, reported by teammates such as fullback Joe Karam as having set out to provoke him, led to Murdoch being sent home. Most of the team, not least skipper Ian Kirkpatrick, were horrified. Manager Ernie Todd was accused of caving in to pressure from British officialdom and the media.

Nobody anticipated what followed. Put on a plane to New Zealand, Murdoch got off in Australia and disappeared for the remaining 45 years of his life into the outback of the Northern Territory.

Confirmed subsequent sightings were rare. New Zealand rugby's great chronicler Terry McLean tracked him down in the late 1970s, only to be instructed firmly and directly what he should do if he wished to preserve life and limb. McLean, who was brave but not foolhardly, promptly complied.

Television research Margot McRae, who later wrote a play about him, found him friendlier when she in turn located him in 1990, but their 45-minute conversation was entirely off-camera. While describing his refusal to explain himself as 'heroic' in its rejection of modern media confessionals and finding him "very happy in himself" she said the interview was "like getting blood from a stone."

There were also reports of his returning for a while to New Zealand in the 1980s and saving a child from drowning, and an enforced break from cover in 2001 when he was called as witness at an inquest in Tennant's Creek near Darwin into the death of a man last seen trying to break into his home. Murdoch, who was also questioned twice by the police, broke silence to insist that he was called purely as a witness, and was cleared when the investigation closed in 2002 with no charges due to lack of evidence.

His former club Zingari Richmond flew its flag at half-mast on Friday after receiving news from members of Murdoch's family. Club chairman Doug Baughan's statement that "the exact circumstances are not yet clear," was wholly in keeping with a life of which historian Lindsay Knight wrote that "No All Black has been more controversial, more enigmatic and more tragic."