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Luke McAlister opens up on the personal challenges behind his unique career

By Ned Lester
(GREG WOOD/AFP via Getty Images)

We often hear athletes and coaches discuss sacrifices, moments where individuals have to surrender something in order to progress their sporting careers. It’s something Luke McAlister is more than familiar with.


The 31-time All Black has had a unique rugby career, splitting his time between New Zealand and Europe well before it was the norm to do so.

While the 39-year-old has no regrets over his decisions, he acknowledges they were challenging and emotional for not just himself but his young family as well.

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Speaking on the A Beacon of Hope podcast, McAlister reflected on various occasions in his career when he was faced with difficult decisions, perhaps none more challenging than leaving his first child the day after she was born.

“So I got named in the All Blacks on the Friday,” he said. “For the first time, end-of-year tour, and my daughter was born on the Saturday. I flew out the Sunday for five weeks. It was pretty intense.

“My heart’s with my daughter, my newborn. But, then I’ve got this All Blacks dream and then I’m like far out, tossed up. I’m 21, and my partner at the time, Brooke, she said ‘no way, there’s no way you’re missing the tour. You’re definitely going, we’ll still be here in five weeks.’

“But it wasn’t easy. Had my baby the Saturday, flew out the Sunday. It was tough.”


The podcast is built on the central theme of hope and offers vulnerable conversations, which McAlister certainly delivered.


The former world U21 Player of the Year went on to offer further insight into what was going on in the background throughout his career.

“I’ve always been a bit different with my career path. I left when I was 24, in the prime of my career, left New Zealand for two years, signed overseas. That was unheard of back then, no one did that.

“It was a big scandal, people that didn’t know me would say ‘oh he’s turned his back on the black jersey, he’s disrespecting us, he’s disrespecting the nation’.

“I didn’t read too much into it, I knew what was coming.

“It was just after the World Cup, we lost the quarter-final. I’d signed before that though.


“It’s where I grew up, where I went back to – Sale, in England. I don’t know how many games I’d played, maybe 20 or 22 games for the All Blacks at the time and I was just like you know what? I’m in the prime of my career, I don’t want to be one of those All Blacks that would leave when I’m 35.

“I’d rather go to a club when I’m at my best, where I can give my best, I can go to a new culture, new experience and the money’s awesome as well, not going to lie, the money was a huge factor in me leaving but it wasn’t the sole factor.

“I wanted to get out, I wanted to go. There was some stuff happening, I broke up with my partner in 2007, Astyn’s mum. So I was just like I want to go, I want to get away.

“That was pretty hard, I had to leave obviously my daughter and her here. That was quite hard, it wasn’t a great breakup at the time, we’re obviously all good now but back then there was a few teething issues so being away from her was hard.

“But I wouldn’t change anything.

“When you talk about feelings and emotions, I guess, with me, I could definitely hold them inside. I wasn’t one to talk much. Now, I’m different, but back then, I definitely kept things inside. I didn’t want to tell anyone, I didn’t want to burden anyone with my problems or my feelings. But now I’m definitely more open to talking.

“I’ve definitely changed over time, over my rugby career. I’ve been pretty lucky to be able to travel the world doing something that I love.”


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Graeme 377 days ago

When he left it opened the door to Maa Nonu.

Scott 378 days ago

Luke McAlister made a ton of money and I do not begrudge him at all for that. But can’t help but wonder how great a player he might have become had he stayed in NZ at age 24.

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