Before you ask, yes it's real.

This painstakingly detailed tattoo of former All Blacks captain Richie McCaw could easily be mistaken for a photograph.

It took Auckland tattoo artist Steve Butcher nine hours to hand ink every strand of hair and wrinkle on McCaw's bloodied face, on a die-hard fan's lower leg.

The incredible inking sent social media into a flurry when NewstalkZB and NZME broadcaster Tony Veitch shared it on Facebook saying he had to look at it multiple times before asking the public if this is "the greatest sports tattoo".

I had to look at this multiple times .. is this the greatest sports tattoos you've seen? All Blacks

Posted by Veitchy on Sport on Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Butcher has been in the business for seven years, in which time he has won several international awards including best in show in London last year and again in Paris this year, against about 300 other tattoo artists - a particularly big deal for a self-taught tattooist.

"It's pretty surreal. I'm just doing tattoos and people are going crazy about it. It's pretty overwhelming to think in six years it's come from nothing to this."

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The 27-year-old has tattooed the faces of many sports stars and celebrities over the years including rugby legend Jonah Lomu, Michael Jordan, Sylvester Stallone and Brad Pitt.

Butcher also did this photo-like tattoo of Jonah Lomu. Photo/Supplied
Butcher also did this photo-like tattoo of Jonah Lomu. Photo/Supplied

After looking at his work it is no surprise Butcher is in demand and, given he spends a large amount of time travelling the world for tattoo conventions and competitions, a very hard man to get an appointment with.

Rugby fanatic Jerremy Clarke, 36, was chuffed to pin down Butcher, who he described as "one of the best tattooists in the world", to begin a series of All Blacks-themed tattoos on his body.

"Who better to start with than Richie McCaw, the double World Cup-winning captain?" said Clarke who paid $1700 for the tattoo that looks more like a photograph.

"I've always grown up watching the All Blacks," Clarke said, a tradition he has continued with his 2-year-old and 6-month-old children.

"When [Butcher] finished and I saw the tattoo myself I was blown away."

Steve Butcher tattoos realistic faces.
Steve Butcher tattoos realistic faces.

Butcher, who works out of a private studio in Henderson, said the hardest part about realistic tattoos was "getting the likeness 100 percent" because unlike a panting you can't paint over a tattoo.

His number one tip to aspiring tattooists is to "slow down, take your time and don't be lazy."