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'You know we can't do that': How Canterbury swooped in and poached Richie McCaw off Otago

By Ben Smith
Canterbury flanker Richard McCaw charges at Wellington first five David Holwell during their NPC and Ranfurly Shield match at Jade Stadium, Christchurch. Canterbury won the game 31-29. (Photo by Simon Baker/Getty Images)

Former New Zealand Rugby Chief Executive Steve Tew has detailed the story of how all-time great All Black Richie McCaw ended up at Canterbury.


The 149 Test legend and two-time Rugby World Cup winner was playing rugby for the Otago Boys 1st XV at the time when future All Black coach Steve Hansen became enamoured with him.

At the time Hansen was involved with talent identification with Canterbury and Steve Tew was the CEO of the provincial union.

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But an agreement between the two traditional heavyweights of the South Island was a potential road block for signing the young openside.

“Steve [Hansen] was in charge of talent ID and he’d identified this kid down at Otago Boys,” Former NZR Chief Steve Tew told Between Two Beers podcast.

“He reckoned he was going to be as good as anybody he’d seen.

“He came into my office and there was a quadranguler tournament at Lancaster Park, our office was just out the back, he said ‘this kid McCaw’, I said ‘Steve, you know’.

“Because we had an agreement with Otago and the Highlanders that we wouldn’t poach each other’s players. Because we needed them. If we were going to get players into the South Island, they had to come from somewhere else.


“No point beating the crap out of each other, so we had this agreement, I said ‘you know we can’t do that’, and he swore away.”

Not taking no for an answer, Hansen dug in and did his research, uncovering that Otago had signed one of Canterbury’s young players and a rival to McCaw in the same position.

“He’s back about three hours later, he said ‘you know they’ve pinched number seven Sam Harding’, I said ‘who have?’ and he said ‘Otago have pinched Sam Harding, now we can go get McCaw’.

“So true enough they had pinched Sam Harding, Sam was actually ahead of Richie at the time, he was getting starts in age grade teams and whatever. So we talked to Richie, got him up to Lincoln, met the Chancellor.


“Interestingly enough he got a kick in the jaw in one of the first club games and ended up with a really badly fractured jaw. His mum and dad came up and stayed for a few days to look after him, he didn’t play much footy in that first three to four months.”

Tew explains that it didn’t long to understand McCaw’s character and drive was ‘special’ but he said the call to sign him was left to the ‘experts’, legendary coaches Wayne Smith, Robbie Deans and Steve.

“I trusted people like Wayne [Smith] and Steve and Robbie [Deans] to know what they do. They were the experts. I could have an opinion about props but that would be about it really,” Tew said.

“You know as soon as you met him he was a special human. Quiet, very unassuming. Richie’s still not the most effusive person when you first meet him, he takes time to warm up. That’s the nature of the man, but very intelligent very deep thinker.

“The thing I recount most fondly about Richie is when we’ve had difficult conversations with players in negotiating collective agreements or whatever, he cares about everybody in the game, he doesn’t just care about the group he’s representing immediately in the All Blacks.

“He was worried about the All Blacks Sevens, he was worried about the women’s, he was worried about what’s going on in provincial. That’s why you see him still involved now.”

Watch the exclusive reveal-all episode of Walk the Talk with Ardie Savea as he chats to Jim Hamilton about the RWC 2023 experience, life in Japan, playing for the All Blacks and what the future holds. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV


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1 Comment
Scott 33 days ago

This article pretty much summarizes both the Crusaders and Highlanders perfectly- talent identification and player development of the two franchises are world apart.

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