Rugby: McCaw back in red and black

Christchurch club that had Richie McCaw as a colt launches last act in rugby's greatest career

Richie McCaw keeps popping up in Matt Mustchin's rugby career and he's done it again.

McCaw makes his much anticipated comeback when the Christchurch Football Club, co-coached by Mustchin, play University at Christchurch Park today. The ground - part of a sports and motel complex owned by the club thanks to an old deal with a Japanese company - might bulge with 5000 spectators, according to an anxious club official who described the McCaw return as "hysteria".

McCaw (in 2009), Andrew Mehrtens, Dan Carter and Sonny Bill Williams have made high-profile club appearances in Canterbury club rugby over the years but today is something very different. These will be the first public steps back in the final stanza of perhaps the greatest New Zealand rugby career. McCaw, refreshed by a seven-month sabbatical, intends it to lead to the 2015 World Cup, where he can head a defence made possible only by his 2011 heroics on a busted foot.

Mustchin says his father, Bryan, the club's former development officer, enticed McCaw to the Christchurch club as a colts player.

McCaw, from Hakataramea Valley in the South Canterbury-North Otago border region, was headed to Lincoln University on a rugby scholarship. Bryan Mustchin attended the 1998 national schoolboy final at Lancaster Park to scout Rotorua Boys High captain Craig Newby, who was rumoured to be Christchurch-bound.

Instead, he spied McCaw for their opponents Otago Boys High, and while the national school selectors overlooked the future legend, Bryan Mustchin had spotted his man, and contact was made. Matt Mustchin was in the Christchurch team for McCaw's senior debut.

"He made this tackle off the back of a scrum and a few of us looked at each other and went 'holy cow, this kid is pretty good' and away we went," says 36-year-old Mustchin, a former Crusaders forward who had a brief test career with Scotland.

In 2008, Mustchin - who qualified for Scotland through residency - and McCaw waited as test replacements on the Murrayfield sidelines, a quirky footnote in McCaw's career.

Mustchin says:"A couple of the blokes looked over at training the other night and said 'Crikey, that's Richie McCaw over there, potentially the greatest All Black, with 116 tests. We're playing alongside him'. They're very excited about it."

Kieran Coll, the man who will captain the All Black captain, was relishing the occasion.

"He was actually very quiet at training in 2009. He's said a bit more this time but you can tell he wants to fit in with what we do," said Coll, a trainee physical education teacher and demolition worker.

"There's a definite buzz round the team, you really notice his presence at training but once we got on the field last time, it was business as usual."

Cantabrian Coll, a 2012 Hawkes Bay NPC player, and his club mates will get also get a little added exposure. Christchurch and University are in the bottom half of the division one split, but McCaw's presence means Canterbury TV will screen the match tomorrow. CTV told the Weekend Herald they had also decided to stream the game on Monday. The game will also appear on Sky TV's Grassroots Rugby programme.

McCaw is revered at the club even if his visits are, naturally, occasional. A 2011 World Cup picture of McCaw and another famous club man, the late Jock Hobbs, has pride of place on the wall. Christchurch president and stalwart Gerald Wilson says McCaw goes out of his way to contribute, and proudly recounts him insisting his current NZRU contract be signed on the club premises.

"Club players change every season these days and are pretty young - even the club members don't know the names of players on their senior team anymore," says Wilson.

"So it's great to have a real personality and someone as revered as Richie playing in a match for us. When he's in town he'll suddenly appear at the club and he's always been exceptionally good towards us. Of course he's like the pied piper to the children when he does turn up.

"I remember arriving for a meeting one day at 5.30 and watching Richie head to a junior weigh-in where there were hundreds of kids. I thought he'd be there for half an hour but when I left two hours later he was still there.

"He doesn't just pay lip service - he really goes out of his way. Those are the sorts of things he does; he's a special person and carries a tremendous amount of respect.

"There's a lot more interest in this game than when he played for us a couple of years ago; it's probably because his last game for the All Blacks was so long ago. As captain of the World Cup-winning team his profile has gone even higher."

Christchurch is the country's oldest rugby club, marking 150 years this year, and McCaw will receive a cap today for selection in their all-time team.

The Canterbury union gave Christchurch a run of home games for this time, to ensure McCaw's return was at Christchurch Park. The club hopes bar takings might be a little bonanza.

University hold the DCL Shield, a prized, 107-year-old challenge trophy that goes on the line in this game. Old friendships count too, celebrity status or no celebrity status.

Mustchin says: "Richie popped into the club last year, spotted Mum and Dad and went over to have a drink with them. I know he's got a lot of time for them and they have a lot of time for Richie.

"He's kept the club close to his heart through everything he's done with the All Blacks and I'm sure he's looking forward to it as much as everyone else."

- NZ Herald

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