By WARREN GAMBLE



In the highlands of northern Scotland, the Blackadder clan had their own castle.



In the flatlands of the Canterbury Plains, one of the clan's descendants can now lay claim to his own kingdom.



"Blackadderville" reads the council sign welcoming people to the rural township of Rangiora, 25km north of Christchurch.

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Not that Todd Blackadder, newly crowned All Black captain and fresh from another victorious Super 12 crusade, would be one for lording it over his subjects.



"He's just another bloke here," says his uncle Colin.



Just another bloke who has struck a chord with the nation in the post-John Hart era with his no-frills, never-step-back style of play and his unvarnished speaking.



They are values shaped in a traditional rural upbringing that forged All Black legends such as the indestructible Colin Meads.



Todd Blackadder was born in Rangiora 28 years ago and still lives there with wife Priscilla and their two primary school-aged children, Shinae and Ethan.



His own parents separated when he was young. He grew up with the earthy toil of work on his grandfather's large dairy farm, and followed his father, Ross, and uncles into rugby, the only game in town.



Last year, he recalled his first match as a 6-year-old: "I had all the brand-new gear right down to the boots with clean white laces. When we got there the coach decided I was too young to play.



"My mum took me home in tears. I was so upset she let me sleep in my gear that night."

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His rugby genesis was unremarkable. He left Rangiora College early, never making the 1st XV.



In fact, he made his mark in another province. Heading to Collingwood, 135km northwest of Nelson, to take up a welding apprenticeship, he joined the local club and quickly stood out.



He told Christchurch journalist Phil Gifford last year: "In a wee place like that everyone turns up for the games, and people are quietly encouraging. When you play, it's like you're all brothers. You sort of died for each other.



"The whole thing was great, really some of the best years of my rugby life. Every second week we had an away game with a bus trip to Nelson. It was three hours each way, with a lot of pubs in between."



Blackadder was spotted by Nelson Bays age-group selectors (later becoming a standout for the senior team) and was also picked for the NZ under-19 tour of Australia. The coach, former All Black selector Ross Cooper, recalls the pre-departure flurry caused by Blackadder's size 15 feet. None of the sponsor's footwear would fit, and a pair of boots had to be imported urgently.



"He was the same as he is now, very proud of his heritage and very hard-nosed," says Cooper.



"He was very proud of his farming background and coming from a small rural area to play in a New Zealand side."



Blackadder ditched his welding career and returned to working on a large dairy farm in Collingwood for Brian McKay, father of a friend he had met in Nelson. Priscilla, his future wife, was Brian's daughter.



The pair were married and returned to Rangiora, where Blackadder worked as a security guard for uncle Colin before buying a Christchurch courier run off another uncle.



His dream of pulling on the red-and-black of Canterbury became a reality in 1991. He was taken under the wing of Andy Earl, the archetypal hard-as-nails Canterbury forward.



Team-mate Matt Sexton says Blackadder not only picked up playing tips from Earl, he also developed an aversion to after-match speaking and the media, a far cry from his relaxed form in the spotlight today.



"He was bloody terrible when he first got the job [as captain]," Sexton says. "But what he does now, he speaks from the heart, and it comes across like that. I think that's what people like. It's refreshing; there are no politically correct statements coming out of his mouth."



On the field, his skills rose with the new dynasty of Canterbury rugby power in 1990s, peaking with All Black selection in 1995 and two tests against England in 1998.



He was dropped from Hart's side on the pretence of shin-splints and amid questions about his speed at blindside flanker.



It hurt but he never dropped his head, nor became half-hearted for Canterbury, leading them to national and Super 12 dominance.



The failure of the World Cup side and Hart's departure triggered a public push for Blackadder's leadership. Commentators and armchair fans like his uncomplicated style.



He reportedly summed up his footballing approach after watching a sports psychology video with the national sevens team (belying his supposed lack of speed): "It's all bullshit, mate. You just run, tackle, and run and tackle some more."



His transition to lock last year and his growing assurance in the role this year made him a shoo-in for former Canterbury coach Wayne Smith's first All Black squad.



While questions remain about his locking ability at the top level - even his uncle says he is "not the best lock but still better than average" - there are no doubts about his leadership.



Cooper says his qualities as captain include incredible common sense, an ability to relate to everyone from small kids to royalty and an astute tactical knowledge.



"Probably the most important thing is that he is incredibly proud of the jersey he's wearing, whether it's New Zealand, Canterbury or club."



Sexton says Blackadder has the characteristics of a great Canterbury player. "He's got that real sort of hard background, and that's the way he plays. He loves the hard graft."



Sexton, whose knee injury sidelined him for the Super 12, says Blackadder gives as good as he gets on the field, and within the team's own thick-skinned chatter.



Blackadder jokes arising from the Rowan Atkinson TV series - teenage friends would ring his Rangiora home asking for Baldrick - are a thing of the past.



Now his team-mates call him "grey way" after his prematurely aged hair. (Besides his height and big feet, his other physical signature is a C-shaped scar on his cheek received when his car plunged into a creek near Collingwood. His younger brother Dean died in a crash several years ago.)



Sexton says his captain is not constantly talking on the field, but will "spark it up" if the team are losing their way.



"He lets people know if they are not performing, and he is not backward about telling the coaches what he thinks, too."



And when pre-match talks are needed his words are usually few. When the Crusaders used a speech from Shakespeare's Henry V as a promotional tool last year, Blackadder harked back to his Scottish heritage before a crunch game.



"Come on guys, draw your swords."