Tom Taylor just fulfilling his All Black destiny
Even as a toddler chasing stray rugby balls while watching All Black father Warwick coach the Burnside High School first XV, people said Tom Taylor would one day pull on the black jersey too.
That's when the predictions - and pressure - of an All Black call-up started. They never stopped.
Tonight Taylor makes his All Black debut against the Wallabies in Wellington. Ever since he pulled on his first pair of boots - black of course - as a 5-year-old, the comparisons have been there. It's all Tom's ever known.
''Your dad was an All Black so you'll be an All Black.''
From an early age his game mimicked his father's. Though Tom never saw Warwick play for the All Blacks in the flesh, the odd tape here and there, genes and the Taylor mindset shaped the way he played the game.
He's not flashy, but he's reliable, consistent, does the basics well and acts as a backline glue, allowing the stars to shine. Like father like son. They even share their March 11 birthday.
Steve Ellis coached Tom at colts level, Canterbury under-18s and then senior rugby and remembers him being ''skinny, light and physically under-developed''.
''But even then we all knew he was destined. Yep, he had the pedigree and the genes, but he had phenomenal skills and you just knew when he grew into his body he was going to be something special.''
Ellis struggled to get Taylor into rep teams because of his size, but once coaches saw him play, control games and defend, he was in.
''I'm not sure some people appreciate just how good a tackler he is,'' Ellis said.
Like father like son again. Proud mother Tracy has a theory.
''Tom and Warwick are really close. Warwick never pushed Tom or forced him into rugby, but I think Tom really looked up to what his dad had done," she said.
''And Warwick was a good tackler, that was what he was known for so he taught him exactly how to do it properly.''
So while Tracy celebrated the news with tears and manned a cell-phone that hasn't stopped this week, where was Tom's other biggest fan? He was on Mt Lyford as assistant PE head of department with Burnside High School and out of cell phone range.
With strict rules about not letting the cat out of the bag before the team was made public, Tracy sent a hand written note to Warwick with a Burnside staff member saying Tom would start in tonight's test, 25-years after Warwick played the last of his 40 All Black games.
''He's making a habit of it,'' Tracy said. ''He was away playing golf when Tom got was picked last year [on the end of season tour as an injury replacement].''
Obviously, both were over the moon. Warwick, speaking on a satellite phone from Mt Lyford, couldn't have been happier. He said he'd have a bit of advice for Tom, once he got off the mountain and had a chance to call him.
''I'll speak to him and just say what I normally do, to have fun and to trust himself. He got there on his ability, they obviously think he's good enough so he has to think that too.''
Warwick gave the sense he resented people thinking his success had helped Tom achieve. One gets the impression he'd hate anyone to think Tom has had special treatment at any point of his career. He hasn't.
''It's all him. He's worked hard all the way through.''
Ellis said what made Tom so special was his ability to learn, adapt, take advice and his pure drive to become the best rugby player he could be. And his ability to keep both feet on the ground even when he's been thrust into the spotlight.
''I don't think he has an arrogant bone in his body. And he just doesn't let you down.''
A collection of family members will pack into Tom's maternal grandparents Owen and Alison Simonsen's house to cheer on their kin.
Sadly, two of his biggest fans won't be there. Warwick's parents Torry and Marj passed away three years ago within months of each other.
''Tom played for New Zealand under-20 in a warm-up game the day after Marj died so Torry got to see him play there which was really special,'' Tracy said. ''Aaron Cruden was injured that day so Tom got to play.''
Tom managed to nab tickets for his parents in the crowd, sisters Stephanie, 22, and Madeleine, 18, girlfriend Jess and her brother.
Tracy was expecting to be nervous and predicted Warwick to ''be restless and move all around in his seat''. But not Tom.
''I think he'll be fine. He'll stick to his routine and as soon as he makes that first tackle and makes his first kick, he'll be okay.''
Cool, calm and collected. Like father like son.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Is Richie McCaw now the greatest All Black of all time?