The rise and rise of ABs lock Brodie Retallick

SUPER MAN: Humble 23-year-old Brodie Retallick turns into a super-powered lock when he pulls on the All Blacks jersey.
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ
SUPER MAN: Humble 23-year-old Brodie Retallick turns into a super-powered lock when he pulls on the All Blacks jersey.

Brodie Retallick is forging a reputation as one of the best locks in world rugby. Toby Robson got to know the 2.04-metre 23-year-old with his head in the clouds but his feet firmly on the ground.

Brodie Retallick has been working things out from the start.

As a youngster he and his two brothers, Logan and Brook, would crowd around their father Glen as he worked on their motorbikes.

Long days spent riding around the family's 5-acre block in Broomfield or towing each other on sleds took their toll on the machinery.

It wasn't long before the Retallick boys were fixing things themselves. Mum Jo's boys were the hands-on types, out playing rugby in the yard rather than parked in front of the television.

"We were very competitive but all very close growing up," Brodie, the middle child, said of his siblings. "They're coming up to watch the game this weekend with mum."

There is pride in the All Blacks lock's voice when he talks about his family.

"Brook, he's a mechanical engineer in Rangiora and my younger brother, Logan, he's doing a diesel mechanics apprenticeship.

"They live together, they both work down in Rangiora. Dad was a mechanic for a few years and I guess we were more of a hands-on, outdoor family. We're not really the office-job types."

In fact, Retallick's dad was the supervisor at North Bread, now known as Tip Top , while his mum worked for a law firm in town. These days she's the Hurunui mayor's personal assistant.

When Brodie was in year 9, the family moved to Rangiora and he started at Christchurch Boys' High School.

"We used to have motorbikes and sleds, stuff like that. I actually started doing my first year of an apprenticeship as a mechanical engineer before rugby took over," he said.

"Dad was always out in the shed building different things, we had our motorbikes and were always out there with dad fixing them or tinkering with something.

"At school we did metalwork, woodwork, stuff like that, so it's just where the family's gone I guess."

Engineering's a profession that requires an inquiring mind, work ethic, understanding and a willingness to get your hands dirty.

Not bad traits if you want to turn your hand to rugby. That runs in Retallick's blood, too.

His dad is rugby mad. His mum is former All Blacks prop John Ashworth's sister. His older brother Brook played first five-eighth for Glenmark and Canterbury Country.

Hurunui District Council recently decided to name a road after the family. Retallick Way is a present-day tribute to their star All Black, but also to a name that's been in the region since the early 1900s.

In truth though, Retallick's rugby rise began in earnest after Canterbury passed on a tight forward who admits he disliked fitness, and lacked a little confidence when he left school.

In the first XV in 2008 and 2009 he was too big to be lifted in the lineout, so ended up hoisting lighter men. He was so big as to be slightly awkward.

Perhaps if they'd seen him play basketball at primary school, manoeuvre a trail bike around a paddock, or tinker skilfully small parts of complicated machinery?

Whatever the case, he shifted to Hawke's Bay and a year later had Super Rugby contracts on the table from the Chiefs and Hurricanes.

"I actually did get an offer from the Hurricanes at the same time as I got one from the Chiefs," Retallick said.

"Probably not too many people know [about the Hurricanes offer], but it was about the same time. Mark Hammett gave me a call, but it was for a wider-training-group spot for the first year and a full contract the second year.

"The Chiefs one was the full squad and [my Hawke's Bay coach] Tom Coventry was going there too."

It proved a wise move. Retallick loved Hamilton. He met fiance Niki Thompson, a Hastings nurse, became good friends with flatmate Sam Cane, and retained his love of two-wheeled transport when he moved to Hamilton and bought a Vespa off prop Sona Taumalolo.

"I used to have a 50cc scooter that I'd ride around Hamilton which was a bit of a laugh. First year when we made Super Rugby, me and Sam ... pre-season December-January was so warm and it cost about $6 a week to get to training."

Leaving home wasn't the only change. Retallick was always big, but admits he was a little on the plump side before he hit the professional ranks.

"I actually used to hate running. I just didn't enjoy going out and doing fitness, but I guess as I got fitter it got a bit easier and I started to enjoy it," he said.

"I was definitely not one of the fittest [at school]. I was just with the pack really, in the tight five. I think it was when I lost a bit of weight and opened up the stride I guess the fitness started to come."

Watching Retallick tear through his work during the past year it is impossible to imagine him as unfit. He is like a human who has been fitted with a V8 engine and a fuel injector.

The pressure of the scrum left him with jelly legs during his first season of test rugby but this year he feels stronger, more comfortable pushing through the pain barrier.

And probe just a little deeper and his relentless competitiveness and pride in the All Blacks jersey quickly come to the surface.

"It's also that you don't want to give up or show any weakness to the opposition that you are hurting. You know if you are blowing they are probably at least as bad if not worse," he said.

"The other big thing is you just don't want to give up. You don't want to be the person who gets left behind in the D-line and that's where they break, you don't want to fall off the kick, chase and they counter and you miss a tackle.

"I guess that's what really drives me. I don't want to be that person who gets left behind and causes the team to lose, that's a really big thing for me."

And Retallick is big. He's 2.04 metres. Everything is big. He is all knees and elbows, as efficient as the machines that fascinate his family.

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.

"He's very physical, he has a great workrate, he's all over the park and he has some great skills. He makes a lot of passes, he doesn't just always take the contact. He's a very talented player."

Such praise would be mere words, only it came this week from the man he'll mark in Wellington today - Springbok opposite Victor Matfield.

AT A GLANCE

Brodie Retallick
Age: 23
Born: Rangiora
Physical: 2.04m, 120kg
Test caps: 30 (22 starts)
Test debut: v Ireland, Auckland, 2012 (age 21)
Teams: Hawke's Bay, New Zealand Under-20s, Chiefs, All Blacks

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