Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Royal visit: Star visitors outshine McCaw at kids' rugby day

Delighted Rippa Rugby players Jemima, 6, left, and Lydia Hortop-Blair, 4, were buzzing after a chat with the Duchess of Cambridge. Photo / Otago Daily Times
Delighted Rippa Rugby players Jemima, 6, left, and Lydia Hortop-Blair, 4, were buzzing after a chat with the Duchess of Cambridge. Photo / Otago Daily Times

It's usually Richie McCaw that everyone wants to know about in the moments after a big game or public appearance.

But yesterday the star power of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge - particularly the Duchess - meant the questions after the Regal Rugby Fun Day were put to McCaw, instead of being about him.

Asked about the short time he chatted with Catherine in front of a stadium of onlookers he said: "They're just like normal people."

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"I asked about their trip and they've had a pretty good time ... obviously being parents themselves they've enjoyed seeing the kids running around."

Locals turned up to yesterday's game with Union Jacks, and the All Black captain played a supporting role at the game as the royal couple continued their public competition when each took charge of a junior rugby team in front of about 10,000 fans at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.

After the future king of England kicked off, the young primary school players tore around the field, cheered on by the royal couple and McCaw.

William, a keen rugby fan who is often spotted at Twickenham with his brother Harry, chatted with McCaw, who he has met numerous times and invited to his wedding.

Kate was more interested in the children, bending down to talk with her team's substitutes.

Jemima, 6, and Lydia Hortop-Blair, 4, of the Pirates Rugby Club in Dunedin, were among the youngsters to enjoy their moment in the spotlight, chatting to Catherine during breaks in the action.

The Duchess chatted about the rules of the game and asked Lydia if she was "going to run fast", said proud father Quentin Blair, of Dunedin.

Jemima said she was excited to meet the Duchess.

"She was beautiful. I couldn't wait because she was so special."

Watch: Royal visit: All Blacks and Rippa rugby

Nearing the end, it seemed her team might be keener to be on the bench - three of them crowded around her legs and gazed up at the Duchess as they bounced up and down excitedly.

At one point Kate gently pulled on one of her player's blonde pigtails.

Paul Miller, who helped coach the team with Kate, said many of her questions were an attempt to understand the rules of Rippa Rugby, a non-contact version of the game where "tackles" are made by pulling off a velcro strap.

William's team, from Clutha, ultimately ran out winners.

But for both teams it was an experience to remember - cheered on by thousands when they were on the field, and given pep talks by a royal couple when they were off it.

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- Additional reporting Otago Daily Times

- NZ Herald

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