For a decade, Philip John McDonald worked tirelessly behind the scenes to help make the Crusaders and Mid-Canterbury rugby teams a success.

Yesterday, his contributions were brought into the spotlight as the sport he loved gave its thanks.

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw was among a host of New Zealand rugby identities who turned out to celebrate the life of the Crusaders board member, 57, who died in the collapse of the Pyne Gould Corporation building in the Christchurch earthquake.

McCaw, flanked by two Crusaders' horsemen, led Mr McDonald's coffin draped in a Crusaders flag through a guard of honour after a funeral heavy on rugby themes.

New Zealand Rugby Union chairman Mike Eagle and chief executive Steve Tew were among the many rugby officials and players at the service in Ashburton attended by about 1000 people.

Crusaders board member Max Spence said a lot of the "immense" work Mr McDonald did for his home province of Mid Canterbury went without reward.

Mourners heard that when Southland-born Mr McDonald was not at rugby matches, he would be watching on television.

He was a self-proclaimed rugby expert, and his expertise became "better and more vocal" when he had a few drinks.

While the Crusaders held precedence, "as a southern man he had more than just a little touch of empathy for the Highlanders", said his colleague Gary Leech.

Mr Leech, who worked with Mr McDonald at the Leech and Partners accountancy firm, said the world had lost a "bloody good bloke".

"Phil was unique and, as such, he simply can't be replaced."

Mr Leech said his friend would have wanted him to thank the selfless rescuers who risked their lives to save 11 colleagues at the accountancy firm after the building collapsed.

Mr McDonald's family remembered him as a loving father who had a competitive streak, but also never took things too seriously.

Daughter Chantelle joked that her father had a favourite saying: "I may not be right, but I'm never wrong."