Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: You can bank on All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick

From obscurity to world star: Big, robust lock's journey likely to reach 50th test cap milestone in Dunedin test.
Brodie Retallick, the Clark Kent of rugby, makes a break during the test match against Wales in Wellington last Saturday night. Photo / Getty Images
Brodie Retallick, the Clark Kent of rugby, makes a break during the test match against Wales in Wellington last Saturday night. Photo / Getty Images

Sitting behind a desk wearing glasses and a collared shirt, All Blacks rugby lock Brodie Retallick could pass for a mild mannered, if oversized, bank clerk.

There's a touch of Clark Kent about him - in that Retallick appears determined to disconnect himself from being a man capable of extraordinary deeds. But his shyness and natural reluctance to bring attention to himself won't work this week as he will win his 50th cap in Dunedin if he's selected. The focus will fall, such is the way when players reach significant landmarks, on his journey.

And in Retallick's case, the speed at which he has clocked 50 tests is considerable. Should he play on Saturday, it will see him bring up his 50 in four years and 16 days. It's not quite as impressive as world record holder Michael Hooper, who took just three years and four months to reach the same milestone, or Wales wing George North who was only 22 when he made it, but it will mean he equals Mils Muliaina, who also took four years and 16 days, as the quickest All Black to get there.

What these numbers reveal is both the physical robustness of Retallick and his importance to the All Blacks. Since making his debut against Ireland on June 9, 2012, he's only missed eight tests - remarkably few given the attrition of his position and nature of his work. Only four were because he was injured. He missed the others against the likes of Scotland, United States and Japan, to allow the selectors to have a look at others and that in itself says something - that in seemingly no time, the All Blacks coaching panel learned enough about Retallick to be sure he was an integral part of their set-up.

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What has made the journey seem yet more impressively swift, is that in 2011, Retallick was not a name known to many but the closest followers of the game. He'd played for the successful New Zealand Under-20 team and had pounded around for Hawkes Bay in the ITM Cup, but not so noticeably as to have anyone talking about being the heir apparent to the soon-to-be-retiring Brad Thorn. If anything, there was only uncertainty and no little angst about how the All Blacks would cope without Thorn - a bruising and punishing lock who was a big part of the ball carrying and collision effort.

In barely a year, Retallick arrived from obscurity and became the player the All Blacks were looking for. Taller than Thorn and therefore a better lineout option, Retallick has the same mobility, the same desire to run straight and hard and the same indefatigable will power.

Retallick's engine goes for 80 minutes and like Thorn, he brings a snarling aggression that gives the All Blacks pack that necessary intimidatory edge.

Three seasons after taking over from Thorn, Retallick was crowned World Rugby player of the year and elevated to the All Blacks leadership group. He can try, as much as he likes, to divert attention from himself, but his incredible rise to prominence simply can't be ignored this week.

"It doesn't seem that long ago since I ran out at Eden Park and made my debut," he conceded. "I probably have [changed as a player]. I would like to think that I am a wee bit game smarter than I was four years ago. Hopefully with a bit of experience I'd like to think I have developed.

"[Test matches] It's probably a wee bit faster than it was and the skill-sets are higher which means teams tend to string a lot of phases together and the forwards ability to offload and catch and pass these days has sped things up and made games a bit quicker."

- NZ Herald

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