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The year was 2009; the event a Press Cup semifinal against Nelson. Christchurch Boys’ High School were expected to get a solid win here; as they are with most games they play. They are of course the most-successful school in South Island rugby history – perhaps even in New Zealand?
A certain 10-foot lock was in the second row for CBHS, going all out for the blue-and-black hoops as he always did. A somewhat quiet season by his own standards, his rugby career looked as if it would extend no further than the Canterbury Metro Under-18s. Brodie Retallick never envisaged he would now be one of our most important All Blacks, let alone having ever pulled on the illustrious black jersey.
Cue a phone call from the then Hawke’s Bay coach Tom Coventry. He saw something in Retallick that he desperately wanted to make better. This was something that no one in Canterbury seemed to see. In Canterbury, he was deemed unfit, too slow, his work rate wasn’t high enough and he simply wasn’t what they were looking for. Perhaps Canterbury’s biggest mistake in recent years? No hard feelings from Retallick, though. “It’s just the way sport is these days: everyone is trying to pick the best athletes in order to develop them. I don’t hold anything against them for not picking me.” Nothing but class from big Brodie.
But Retallick liked what he heard from Coventry, and thus he made the move north. A tough and somewhat risky decision for Retallick at the start, but this would prove to be a stroke of genius by the young 18-year-old. It was in Hawke’s Bay that Retallick got himself in shape, got himself fitter than he’d ever been before, and locked down on his fundamental roles around the field.
“I guess I got to Hawke’s Bay and saw what it actually took to get there. It was a real eye-opener, and once I started, I hated coming last in anything. So I was working hard at getting fitter and stronger to become better, and it has started to pay off for me.”
Into the Hawke’s Bay ITM Cup squad went Retallick, and a place in the New Zealand Under-20 side soon followed. Everything was starting to fall into place. Retallick travelled to Italy for the Under-20 World Cup where he would continue his rapid rise as a rugby player. He was a standout for New Zealand as they went on to claim another World Cup title.
Retallick was then thrust straight into Hawke’s Bay’s ITM Cup campaign. An opportunity he grabbed with both hands, and he quickly made a name for himself in New Zealand rugby. With that impressive ITM Cup form, things could only go up. And go up they did. A Super Rugby contract with the Chiefs was thrown Retallick’s way and he was guided by one of the best coaches in New Zealand rugby – Wayne Smith.
Along with Dave Rennie at the helm, the Chiefs began to take Super Rugby by storm, winning two straight titles. Retallick was key to the way the Chiefs became so successful, and subsequently received the ultimate reward for any rugby player.
After just one season of Super Rugby, Brodie Retallick pulled on the black jersey and ran out against the Irish for his All Black debut at Eden Park. This would be the first of many All Black appearances – they total 30 at this point. Retallick never found himself out of the All Blacks squad from the day he was first picked. Testament to the hard work he’d been putting in.
Retallick is now in his third season in the All Blacks, and has been a regular starter for a while now. He is currently rated as our best All Black, ahead of the likes of McCaw and Read. And he’s only 23. There are many saying that Retallick now holds the position as our most important All Black. This doesn’t exactly get the 23-year-old jumping for joy, however. “It doesn’t faze me, what people say in the media about how important I am or am not to the team, because I know how much it takes for the team to perform on Saturday. A lot of work goes into the team throughout the week, not just from the 23 but from the whole squad, and without the high standards that are driven from everyone in the team, it wouldn’t come together on game day,” says Retallick.
Retallick’s work rate on the field is second to none, his work in the lineout is crucial – stealing opposition ball at will – and his defensive work is second to none. And he may well be the best lock in the world right now. That’s a huge call considering he’s only 23, but few people even blink these days when it’s raised over a beer.
In the space of five years, Retallick has gone from unwanted in Canterbury to the All Blacks’ most important player. That’s quite the rise for a guy who was so big at high school he couldn’t be lifted. Going into a World Cup year next year, Retallick’s presence in the All Blacks is going to be as important as ever. Don’t be surprised to hear this guy’s name in the same sentence as Brad Thorn’s shortly. He’s going to be that calibre of player.