All Black captain Richie McCaw is revered around New Zealand, but there is one little spot in Otago that can truly call him its favourite son. Otago Daily Times sports editor Hayden Meikle heads to Kurow in search of some insight into what made the man great.

There is no statue of Richard Hugh McCaw in Kurow. You won't find a street named after him. There is no McCaw Domain, McCaw Park, McCaw Square, McCaw Hospital or McCaw School.

But you are never far away from a reminder that this is McCaw country.

Read more: McCaw's remarkable career started with fumble

In Kurow, a rural service town about 65km inland from Oamaru, and in the neighbouring Hakataramea Valley, the All Black captain - who grew up on a farm and had his formative rugby years in this district - is a constant presence, providing both a deep source of pride to the 350 or so residents and an inspiration to a generation of kids dreaming of following in his giant footsteps.


Radio Sport's Martin Devlin with All Blacks fullback Ben Smith.

Radio Sport's Martin Devlin talks to former All Blacks skipper Todd Blackadder.

"It's almost like an unspoken thing but there is definitely that awareness that Richie comes from here," says Waitaki Valley School principal Deidre Senior.

"He was a Haka kid and a Kurow kid. We get visitors to the school all the time asking about him. Last week, we had a guy here from Wellington and one of the first things he said was, 'Ah, so this is where Richie McCaw grew up'.

"I was actually just talking to the senior class the other day and one of the boys was saying he's going to be the next Richie McCaw because he plays for Kurow and he's also a flanker."

There are 107 pupils at the school, which was formed from an amalgamation of Kurow Area, Otematata, Hakataramea Valley and Cattle Creek schools. About 40 play rugby, many making the 90-minute round trip to Oamaru twice a week for representative trainings, as McCaw did a quarter of a century ago.

Among them is Locky Collins, 13, a dynamic red-haired flanker. Yes, the same position as the god McCaw. Even better, Locky and little brother Ethyn, 7, are growing up in McCaw's old house.

You turn off State Highway 83 in the middle of Kurow, head over the new Haka bridge, take a left, take another left, and cruise down a short gravel driveway. The first thing you see (naturally) is a set of rugby posts - they look relatively new but it's not too much of a stretch to imagine McCaw punting an old leather ball over the bar in the early 1990s.

The Collins boys' mum, Megan Collins, grew up in Kurow but then spent 20-plus years in Australia. (This is where we have to disclose that young Locky and Ethyn, residents of McCaw's old house, were born on the other side of the Tasman.)

Like most in the district, the Kurow postie has a few links to the All Black skipper.


"Richie's mum was my teacher. And now I work with his cousin's wife."

Wags might suggest McCaw's childhood residence should be under some sort of heritage protection order, though Megan Collins assures us the link to our greatest All Black was not the house's main selling point. "In saying that, we've been through it with a fine-tooth comb to see if we can find any trace of Richie."

Back in Kurow, as the temperature moves slowly into double figures and main street starts to bustle - relatively speaking - with the lunchtime rush, Al and Judy McDonald whip up some fish and chips at the River Cafe Restaurant.

Barney McCone.
Barney McCone.

There's a RICHIE MCCAW - GRASS ROOTS TO ALL BLACK CAPTAIN poster on the front counter.

And around the corner, in the restaurant part of the building, a photo of Judy and grandson flanking the man himself. "Oh, he was wonderful," Judy recalls.

Al: "He liked a bit of blue cod."

Just along the road - brilliantly, the main drag of Kurow is called Bledisloe St - the information centre and museum has a McCaw poster in prime position, and visitors are kept well informed of the town's link to rugby superstardom through one of its favourite sons.

Peter Ellis, a volunteer, says Kurow has discussed the possibility of a permanent McCaw display at the museum, or perhaps a scoreboard (a McCaw-board) at the rugby grounds.

Across the road, a huge concrete rugby ball dominates the streetscape outside the veterinary centre. Black, of course.

Its most famous product breaks a world record tonight, but it has been an extremely difficult year for the Kurow rugby club.

A promising season was plunged into darkness by the tragic car accident in May that claimed the life of 23-year-old Kurow player Jarrad Blackler.

His death devastated the club and the community, says club president and local publican Ross Paton. "We're getting there. It hasn't been that hot. We're getting through it," he says.

Paton, whose Kurow Hotel is littered with rugby memorabilia and McCaw newspaper clippings, says having McCaw linked with Kurow over the course of his illustrious All Black career has been a huge boost for the country club.

"It's just the fact that he came from here. He was a grassroots rugby player. It just shows everyone that it can be done.

"From Kurow to All Black captain, taking on the world.

"Richie came back 20 months ago and we made him a life member of the Kurow club. We kept it pretty quiet. It was amazing. We sat there and had a couple of beers. He was just one of us. If you didn't know who he was, you wouldn't have been any the wiser."

A short drive back in the direction of Oamaru is Domett Downs, the McCone family farm and home of possibly the most-interviewed junior rugby coach in New Zealand history.

Barney McCone guided a dominant Kurow junior team that has entered North Otago folklore.

It included son Ross (still playing for the Kurow seniors), Andrew Gard (from the family that produced Kurow's other All Black, Phil), Chris Linwood (now an international referee), Robbie McIlraith (New Zealand under-19 representative), and a kid called Richard McCaw.

The young McCaw was a burly lad with a nose for the tryline. And, yes, his old coach thought he could become a special player.

"I didn't say it at the time but I knew, by gosh, he would go close," McCone says.

"He had a lot of characteristics you can't coach into players. Everything he did was 100 per cent. It was the self-discipline to put in all that hard work. It doesn't matter how good a coach you are - the boys have got to do that themselves.

"He listened to everything you said. He was absolutely fearless. And he just had a tremendous passion for the game He actually hardly ever spoke on the paddock. But he could lift the boys around him just by his own actions."

There is one lingering question on the lips of those who closely follow the fortunes of the Kurow rugby team.

Any chance of an All Black immortal going back to where it all began and playing a couple of games for the club after he retires from international rugby? Whaddaya reckon, Richie?

Behind the bar, Ross Paton allows a smile to flash across his normally reserved face as he ponders the question.

"It would be brilliant. Just a couple of games - one against Valley and one against Maheno, the two country clubs.

"You never know. If Richie would come back and play a couple of games for us, it would be bloody amazing."

Barney McCone leans back in his chair and looks out on snow-capped Mt Domett and wastes no time responding.

"Oh, that would be great to see. Even 20 minutes in a Kurow jersey again would be great. But we'll see."