Promise of whitebait lures former All Blacks hooker Corey Flynn to West Coast

Former All Blacks and Crusaders hooker Corey Flynn honoured a handshake agreement to play for West Coast in the ...
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Former All Blacks and Crusaders hooker Corey Flynn honoured a handshake agreement to play for West Coast in the Heartland Championship.

A swinging fist to the head was an unexpected homecoming gift for Corey Flynn in Ruatoria last Saturday.

Despite the primitive welcome-back message, the former All Blacks hooker didn't seem too bothered by what unfolded at Whakarua Park.

The puncher was an East Coast forward who took umbrage to being obstructed during the match against the visiting West Coast side and Flynn, who played 15 tests for the All Blacks, 150 games for the Crusaders and spent three seasons in France and Scotland, could understand why his adversary wanted to make a point.

Corey Flynn played 150 games for the Crusaders between 2002-14 before joining French club Toulouse.
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Corey Flynn played 150 games for the Crusaders between 2002-14 before joining French club Toulouse.

"I had to apologise to him afterwards because I was holding on to him in a ruck, and he sort of lashed out and got sin-binned," Flynn explained.

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"It was all good fun afterwards. Lots of smiles and laughter - he was pretty cruisy about it. It was just a cool day. Pretty much grassroots, with a haka, the wee grandstand and the utes surrounding the field. Absolutely brilliant."

Corey Flynn in action against the Springboks in Wellington in 2011.
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Corey Flynn in action against the Springboks in Wellington in 2011.

For the record, West Coast won the Heartland Championship match 32-19 and for Flynn, 36, this is the beginning of the end of a rugby career that took off when he left Southland in late 2001 to join the Crusaders for pre-season training.

Having returned to Christchurch with his family from Scotland six weeks ago, he wanted to honour a deal he made with West Coast chief executive Mike Connors. "I'm just fulfilling a handshake agreement I made with Mike before I left New Zealand (in 2014). I am aware of the fact I am past my best playing days, so I will do this and then that will be it."

In return for giving it one last burst prior to chucking his boots into the furnace, Flynn asked the Coasters to contribute some local delicacies for the freezer.

"I sort of said 'well, if there is whitebait and lamb on the cards I will be in'. I am yet to receive any whitebait, but I am sure it is coming. The rivers are a little bit high at the moment, so we will wait and see. I am sure they will keep their end of the bargain."

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Flynn isn't the only former All Black playing in the lower-tier competition. Piri Weepu (Wairarapa Bush), Alby Mathewson (King Country) and Regan King (Mid Canterbury) are all doing their bit for the smaller provinces.

For Flynn the routine is not complicated. Drive from Christchurch to Greymouth on a Friday, train and play the next day.

Given he had a year left on his contract with Glasgow, he was expected to remain up north and work under former Chiefs coach Dave Rennie.

The decision to part ways and return to New Zealand six weeks ago was a "mutual thing". "They wanted to go in a different direction and wanted a younger hooker," Flynn stated. "There were three older guys, they wanted to offload one and that was me."

When an All Black compares the different style in France to learning to walk again, it's clear some adjustments were required. Yet Flynn said he would recommend the experience.

The off-field highlights were numerous. Enjoying the red wines and fresh baguettes, skiing in Andorra, visiting Barcelona and taking a cruise on the Mediterranean were among them.

Being back in Christchurch means he can be closer to family. He has business interests in three bars in Hanmer Springs and is uncertain whether he will follow a number of his ex-All Blacks and Crusaders team-mates into coaching.

"I am just starting to look at life after rugby, open up the networks. It has just been cool reconnecting with people. Hopefully I can find my niche."

 - Stuff

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