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'The first person to shake my hand was Sam Whitelock': Crusaders rookie wing's unlikely rise

By Adam Julian
(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

In 2018 Macca Springer was told he was too young to play for the First XV at Waimea College, Nelson.


Three years later he was a winger for Tasman in an NPC Premiership final and in 2022 he was contracted by the Crusaders.

“It’s pretty surreal to think how quickly it’s happened. You don’t really realise when you’re in the moment,” Springer told RugbyPass.

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“I was in Year 11 when I was told I couldn’t play for the First XV. There was a competition rule they changed the next year which was pretty frustrating.

“I started thinking I could go somewhere with my rugby in Year 12. I was having a lot of fun with my mates, physically grew, and started making a few rep sides.”

It’s not always easy to get recognised playing rugby at Waimea College which Springer described as “a bit of an academic school.”

In fact, with the First XV unable to assemble enough numbers for their own team they joined forces with eight others to compete under the banner of Waimea Combined in the Crusaders First XV championship.


Some players were sourced from as far as Takaka and Murchison, an hour and a half away from central Nelson.

“It was pretty tough at first because we never knew how many would turn up to training and Thursday was often the only time we fully trained.

“There were some pretty long bus rides down to Christchurch, but I believe the key to success in any rugby team is connection and because we spent so much time together, we became tight mates.”

Waimea Combined won half their games in the 2020 Crusaders competition including the scalp of fancied next-door neighbours Marlborough Boys’ College.


Springer was exceptional at centre or fullback throughout the season, reserving his best for heavyweights St Bede’s College.

“We beat them 17-10. That was a special day at the office. We still talk about it. I had a reasonable day too.”

Springer scored all three tries and a conversion. Later he was named the Philip McDonald Memorial Medal winner for the best schoolboy player in the Crusaders region. Fellow Crusader All Blacks Leicester Fainga’anuku and Mitchell Drummond are past recipients. McDonald was a former Crusaders board member who lost his life in the Christchurch earthquake.

“That award is really special to me. To see the others who’ve gone before me is humbling. It is a real credit to the boys and our coaching staff that year of James Lash, Jeremy Salton and Rik Taikato.”

Unsurprisingly Springer was secured swiftly by Tasman Mako and scored a try on debut in a 51-14 win against Southland in 2021. Two matches later he came off the bench in the Premiership final.

Unfortunately, Tasman relinquished their two-year grip on the title when they were beaten 22-20 by Waikato in Hamilton.

“That was a tough game and I hurt with the boys. Then it was like I played a final at 18. Some players go through their whole careers without making a final. It’s a result to spur you on to greater heights.”

Following exhaustive training in the Crusaders Academy, Springer soared in 2022. In June he was a member of the New Zealand Under ’20s who won the Oceania Championship on the Gold Coast. Springer scored tries in the 32-9 win over Argentina and the record 69-12 obliteration of Australia.

Tasman failed to make the semi-finals of the NPC for the first time since 2011. It was no fault of Springer who scored a team-leading eight tries in nine games including doubles against Canterbury, Manawat? and Auckland.

“The Manawatu game was my favourite because we won, and I felt I played really well. Though we got pumped by Canterbury it was good to get one over a few mates by getting a couple of tries.

“I believe we could have won the competition last year. We failed to win a few key moments. There were only slim margins in most of the games. Injuries didn’t help either but that’s not an excuse. Everyone deals with that.”

The Crusaders have been impossible to deal with in Super Rugby since 2017 winning the last six championships. What has Springer noticed about their unique culture?

“The way they welcome you from the start,” he answered.

“On my first day, the first person to shake my hand was Sam Whitelock, the All Black captain.

“There’s lots of knowledge sharing which really helps. Growing up I watched a lot of Will Jordan. All the little extras he’s got to his game like footwork, kicking and positioning. Now I’m working with him every day which is awesome.”

Springer is a junior of the Waimea Rugby Club home to Irish wing James Lowe and Highlanders cult hero Marty Banks. His father Steve played centre for the club along with a bundle of the family at various levels.

A talented basketball player, his cousin is Nelson Giant Nic Trathen.

Vintage Crusaders Wings

Caleb Ralph, 52 tries, 126 games.

Norm Berryman, 15 tries, 30 games

Rico Gear, 30 tries in 40 games.

Scott Hamilton, 22 tries in 58 games.

Nemani Nadolo, 27 tries in 40 games.

George Bridge, 37 tries in 83 games.

Sevu Reece, 44 tries in 55 games.

Will Jordan, 35 tries in 45 games.


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