Richie McCaw's uncle John McLay, the man who inspired him to become a Great All Black, has passed away.

McLay, known to McCaw as Uncle Bigsy, died from complications related to Huntingdon's Disease. His funeral will be held in Ashburton.

McCaw, who played an incredible 148 tests for the All Blacks and who will go down in history as being one of the best ever to put on the black jersey, credited McLay for his drive to succeed. He wouldn't say it as such but many would opine that it his uncle who put him on the path to greatness.

In his best-selling book Richie McCaw - The Open Side, the loose forward talked about a significant conversation he had with McLay.


It was held at McDonald's in Timaru. McCaw had been selected for trials for the 1999 New Zealand under-19 squad and was showing his uncle the summer programme they had been given to keep fit.

McCaw writes: "You want to be in the New Zealand under-19s," Uncle Bigsy said. "Do you want to be an All Black?"

McCaw answered in the affirmative, so a serviette was produced and the pair mapped out how he was going to achieve that goal.

While in his first year at Lincoln University studying Agricultural Science, McCaw wanted to make the New Zealand U19s and Canterbury U19s. The following year, he wanted to make the New Zealand Colts.

From there, he would make the Canterbury U21s and, following that, the Canterbury senior team.

They figured that, after the 2003 World Cup, a few players would head overseas and he would make the Crusaders and, everything going to plan, the All Blacks in 2004.

Uncle Bigsy didn't stop there, making McCaw commit to being a Great All Black.
McCaw couldn't summon the courage to write it out in full, so he scribbled G.A.B. and then, under his uncle's watchful eye, signed it and later pinned it to a cupboard back home in Kurow.

Given McCaw's genius for openside flank play, the chances are he would have made it at anything, but Uncle Bigsy's role should not be minimised. With McCaw's signature, he had effectively signed his first contract, which owed everything to intrinsic motivation and nothing to monetary reward.

As it turned out, McCaw played for the All Blacks in 2001, a little less than two years after signing the 'contract'. His G.A.B status was sealed a few years later when he was named Tana Umaga's successor as All Blacks captain.

McLay, a loose forward who played more than 100 games for Mid Canterbury, including a memorable match against the British & Irish Lions at the Ashburton Showgrounds in 1983, got his nickname due to his large feet.

It is said that as a 13-year-old pupil at Christchurch St Andrew's College, he required size 12 shoes.

Like McCaw, McLay was known for his toughness. In an interview with the Ashburton Guardian last year he said: "In all my rugby games, I only ever left the the field once because of injury. It was pretty physical on the paddock in those days, but I loved that."