Blair Agnew will be dining out for the rest of his life on the big hit he put in on Dan Carter last weekend. The West Melton hooker lined-up the three-time World Rugby Player of the Year and hit him with everything he had.
Welcome back to Canterbury’s Ellsemere Premier Competitors league! It may have been six years since one of the greatest players to have ever laced up a pair of rugby boots had played at Southbridge Domain, but he put in a great 80 minute shift in a game that everyone around him will never forget.
The last time his opposite number, Ashton Molloy, had met him was when he was a ten-year-old asking for an autograph. What a thrill it must have been for him to go up against his idol.
I found myself watching the Facebook feed of the game and it was magnificent watching Dan going back to his roots. It is something I did at the end of my career with Amman United and I knew exactly how he felt.
While it is great to be able to give something back to the club that helped you launch your career, and supported you all the way through, you know there is a target on your back. In my case, a naughty late tackle in a cup semi-final earned me a fractured cheekbone and broken jaw.
That almost cost me a place in the team for the final at Principality Stadium. In the end I was able to line-up alongside my brother and have the dream end to my career with a winners’ medal.
Melton’s gritty hooker, Agnew, didn’t pick up a medal for driving Dan Carter into the dirt, but he will be able to play back that moment to his grandchildren in his dotage. It reminded me of an illustration by the great New Zealand cartoonist Nev Lodge that is on display in the Cardiff RFC museum at the Arms Park.
It was done during the 1971 British Lions tour and there is an All Black standing with a foot on the ball, arms folded, chest out and smiling. At his feet, looking up in adoration as he waits for an autograph, a young fan says: “And you say you actually touched Barry John!”
Some people dismissed Dan’s return to his first club in Christchurch as a publicity stunt. There may have been an element of that, but he wouldn’t have put himself through 80 minutes of rugby without good reason. That’s not what he does.
He gave himself a “pass mark” for his 12-point contribution to the 54-14 win, but admitted to being “a bit rusty”. It wasn’t good enough to even earn him a seat on the bench for the Blues against his former Super Rugby team, the Crusaders, at the weekend, but his presence in his former home town the week before certainly stirred-up interest in the big game.
More than anything, what his appearance in a local parks pitch match did for the game was provide a link between the grassroots and the top end of rugby. There is too often a big disconnect between community and professional rugby and, quite rightly, some clubs feel they aren’t given enough credit for the work they do in providing youngsters with their first steps on the pathway to stardom.
Seeing Dan being driven to the game by his dad, singing songs in the dressing room after the game and talking about walking home after having a couple of beers just reminded us all what this rugby is all about. He also reminded some of his over-enthusiastic younger members that he didn’t have to go through the initiation routine because he’d done all that years ago!
Dan Carter has always been a pin-up boy for New Zealand rugby for his exploits at the highest level. But for now, at least, he is the grassroots hero!
SHANE WILLIAMS / Photo: Getty Images