Scotty Stevenson: The Captain always gets kick out of playing in Waikato

Easy company, the Captain. Photo / Nick Reed
Easy company, the Captain. Photo / Nick Reed

I met the Captain for a cup of coffee on Monday morning in Hamilton. He was wearing a pair of shorts, a knitted woollen cap and an adidas hooded sweatshirt and when he walked into the cafe his legs bowed slightly, and his head swivelled from side-to-side as if he were scanning for threats. He looked like a gunslinger with a wardrobe crisis.

I had seen that walk before, back in 2011 at Eden Park, when he had grabbed the ball from Richie McCaw and headed for the penalty spot.

We chatted about the morning, how he had met with the leadership team a little earlier, how excited everyone had been about playing a game the next night - an historic game against Wales at Waikato Stadium. I guessed immediately that he was the most excited of the lot.

Easy company, the Captain. He joked that he hadn't led a side since his days at Waiuku College, save for one match for Bath when the team travelled to Italy and beat up on poor old Calvisano. I asked him what his pre-match speech had been like.

Two short sentences, he said, "Girls like scars. Let's get into it."

I don't know whether the team left the changing rooms laughing or not, but they put 50 points on the opposition that day.

He has come a long way from that night at Eden Park. He had a movie made about him and all. He's come a longer way still from that night in Hong Kong the year before when he got thrown under a bus and the nation jumped behind the wheel and took turns at driving over the top of him. Horrible, really. No player deserves to be treated like that. It always amazed me that he stuck around.

One thing's for sure, the Captain loves the Waikato, and he sure loves the Chiefs. He came back to push for a starting place but Aaron Cruden and Damian McKenzie have had those spots on lock-down all season. He has turned out for the development side instead, sat on the bench a bit, and run the water a few times. That's the public profile anyway. Behind the scenes he has been much more.

He was whitebaiting when he got the call five years ago, didn't you know? The story has been told so often over so many boozy lunches that now nothing that happened before really matters. He took that kick and all was forgiven.

He didn't come back to New Zealand because he had anything to prove, but because he felt he had something to offer. He helps lead the attack group at the Chiefs, and makes sure the new boys understand what's expected. He brings out the best in others, and puts the team first always. That's the guy you want on your side.

We finished our drinks and he wandered off to get ready for a luncheon where, along with Warren Gatland and Sam Warburton and the Chiefs team, he would help raise money to build a special room at Waikato Hospital - a room in which kids can hang out and dream of being anywhere but in a hospital ward. At the luncheon, someone bid thousands of dollars for the chance to go whitebaiting with him.

I thought of my own kids during that luncheon, and was glad they were fit and healthy and well. And I was glad for something else, too: I was glad my friend Stephen Donald was going to get the chance to captain the team he loves on his home park, on an historic occasion in Hamilton, and that it wouldn't matter what the final result was because anything on top of that, to me at least, was a bonus.

I just hope the pre-match speech has improved.

- NZ Herald

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