Chiefs star and All Black Brodie Retallick went to Christchurch Boys' High School. Richard Knowler asks how the hulking lock slipped through Canterbury's fingers.
Brodie Retallick has never had much luck escaping attention.
During his days at Christchurch Boys' High School the 2.04m giant often had opposition rugby players shooting anxious glances his way during their warmup drills. Once on the field, he gave them cause for such concern.
Retallick wasn't a rogue but he was encouraged by his coaches and team-mates to utilise his massive frame and strength to maximum effect.
When the lock, who played for the Boys' High first XV in 2008 and 2009, got his hands on opposition ball during mauls his backline knew to quickly rejig their alignment in anticipation of the inevitable turnover.
During lineouts things got a little unorthodox; although he could be stationed at No 2 for the flat-direct throw, he was often deemed too heavy to lift and required to add height to the hoist by lifting others instead.
And, having been blessed with good eye-hand co-ordination, Retallick was able to contribute as a distributor and carrier also.
So how did this young leviathan slip through Canterbury rugby's hands?
There is a suspicion the Canterbury academy's talent spotters didn't think the young lad had the ability to change up a gear when the pace of a game quickened.
It depends on who you talk to, but it appears the scouts were too quick to dismiss Retallick.
"Some people seemed to think he was one-paced," said one rugby identity. "And that was a load of rubbish. That was a fallacy and while he may have looked like a plodder they couldn't have been more wrong."
Word, it seems, filtered back to the academy managers that he still needed time to develop. They were wrong.
Hawke's Bay forward coach Tom Coventry probably couldn't believe his luck when he discovered Retallick was eager to progress his rugby career by moving to the North Island.
Coventry made some phone calls, discovered Retallick wasn't contracted to anyone else and pounced.
In 2010, Retallick made his first-class debut for the Bay, was selected by the Chiefs this season and in June was picked to represent the All Blacks against Ireland.
"I never got offered anything from Canterbury . . . and Hawke's Bay probably didn't have the same depth and saw an opportunity there," Retallick, now 21, noted.
"I got approached by Tom Coventry . . . I went up there one day with my dad and looked around. And a month or so later I was packing my car and driving up there."
The previous year another Boys' High old boy, Andrew Horrell, also beat a path north.
Having been also overlooked for the academy Horrell signed for Hawke's Bay and proved a major success for the Chiefs at centre and fullback this season.
It is no surprise Retallick has few regrets. He may have been born in Rangiora and raised in Amberley, where he played for the local rugby club until he commuted to Boys' High each day, but he realised he needed to shift from Canterbury.
"If you can see the opportunity is not going to happen in Canterbury for a while . . . it is a decision players have to make these days, really."
Retallick has always been big for his age but the statistics provided during the Super Rugby season were proof of his energy when striking rucks, getting to his feet and going again.
His height meant he also drifted towards playing basketball as a youngster before concentrating on rowing and rugby when he attended Boys' High as a day boy.
"I have always been pretty tall. I turned up at high school on the first day and I was the tallest there. I think everyone was looking at me and going ‘holy hell, look at the size of this guy'.
"It was pretty daunting those first few days."
Former pupils recall Retallick preferring to remain seated at times in an attempt to lower his height and often loped along with his head down in an effort to mingle with shorter kids.
On the rugby field, however, that height proved a major weapon. Now he is one of the biggest men to represent the All Blacks.
Mark Cooksley, who played 11 tests between 1992 and 2001, is generally recognised as the tallest at 2.05m.
Richard Taylor, who coached Retallick in the 1st XV along with Dave Bone and Justin Fowler, recalled he was a "monster".
"He was never a bean-pole. He was a big boy and was too heavy to lift so we often got him to use his height to lift others," Taylor said.
"He was phenomenally skilled for a big player and very strong."
Tonight Retallick, the player Canterbury was too slow to sign and was regarded as just another promising provincial player as the All Blacks embarked on their World Cup campaign a year ago, will earn his sixth test cap against Argentina in Wellington.
Having replaced Sam Whitelock because of superior form, Retallick is now ranked as one of New Zealand's top locks.
Taylor isn't surprised by his rapid rise.
"There was never really any question that he would one day go all the way to the top."
- © Fairfax NZ News