Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Rugby: Kiwis gather for McCaw's return

Richie McCaw will make his return to rugby today.Photo / Getty
Richie McCaw will make his return to rugby today.Photo / Getty

Hundreds of people have turned up to watch All Blacks captain Richie McCaw make his return to rugby today.

The 116-test veteran starts at openside flanker for Christchurch against University at Christchurch Park in the Canterbury Metro club rugby competition this afternoon.

There's a carnival atmosphere to watch McCaw's return to the field, with packs of children lining the sidelines with people of all ages, players' friends and family, and in front of TV cameras.

The sodden, muddy pitch is a far cry from the champagne turf of Twickenham where McCaw last played, in a loss against England in December, before he decided to make the most of a sabbatical clause in his contract with the New Zealand Rugby Union.

US tourist David Dale came to New Zealand specifically to watch his favourite team, the All Blacks play against France.

Last Saturday morning, the 49-year-old drove 300 kms from Punakaiki on the South Island's west coast to Christchurch Football Club - the oldest in New Zealand, celebrating its 150th anniversary this year - in the distant hope of catching an early return to rugby for McCaw.

While the self-confessed "rugby nut", whose favourite player is McCaw, was disappointed that the international star wasn't playing, he was star struck when the man himself walked into the clubrooms during the match.

Mr Dale says he watched the second half with his hero, got a copy of his autobiography signed, and was amazed by McCaw's "professionalism and grace" when speaking with his fans.

"He's just a great guy," Mr Dale said.

"Athletes in the US just don't conduct themselves in that way. McCaw had time for everyone."

Mr Dale arrived at the ground at 11.30am today - more than three hours early - to secure himself the best position to watch 32-year-old McCaw in the flesh.

"I'm just pumped to watch him play. I used to play openside flanker too, and to watch the best player in the world in a game like this is going to be incredible."

McCaw says he's refreshed from his seven-month break and, after 12 weeks of training, is "itching" to get back on the field in time for the Crusader's Super Rugby playoff game next weekend.

It's his first game for the Christchurch club since 2009.
Six-year-old Harlan Sleeman was "super excited" to see his number one player.

"It's a great day out for father and son," says dad Nigel, 39.

"Harlan's been a huge Richie fan his whole life. He's a great, skilful player, but more importantly, an amazing role model."

- APNZ

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