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Rugby Idols

Rugby Idols – Do you want to be Sonny, Sono or Sam?

Rugby participation numbers in New Zealand continue to rise, as the success of the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup, and the effects of the Legacy Programme, continue to entice people into our great game.sbw123

Nothing breeds participation like success, and at all levels in New Zealand playing numbers are on the jump.

New Zealand lived and breathed rugby for over two months last year, and the legacy programme was the principal driver to ensure that the impact of hosting the tournament would be felt for many years to come.

The rugby relationship was fostered not only by the success of Richie McCaw and the All Blacks beating France 8-7, but the history and culture of the game which allowed a real connection between the rugby community and the general public.

Indeed, those two groups effectively became one.

With the Webb Ellis trophy currently touring the Cook Islands – just after it had travelled throughout New Zealand courtesy of the Great Rugby Road Trip - the lasting impact of the tournament continues, with American Samoa, Fiji, New Caledonia, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tahiti and Vanawatu all receiving training equipment from the 2011 tournament.

Used by the 20 participating nations, equipment such as scrum machines, tackle bags as well as purpose built gear like contact suits will now benefit the Pacific Island rugby community.

As young and old lace on rugby boots for the first time, they will dream of emulating a particular player.

Such idolisation is part and parcel of any sport, if not life, and when the All Blacks toured New Zealand during the Rugby World Cup, more than one sparkle-eyed youngster began to dream that one day they would be treading the same path.

So began the journey, where thousands begin to practice and hone their skills.

The one consistency is that every single individual will model themselves on a particular position, if not a specific player, meaning that miniature versions of All Blacks spring up all over rugby fields in the country.

Some will be lucky to have their parents, either by love or exasperation, help them pursue their dream.

One of the most famous stories of all is how Neville Carter, Dan Carter’s father, set up goalposts in the back of their Southbridge home, perhaps upsetting wife and mum Bev Carter in the process.

The potato and gherkin patch made way for the massive life size steel posts, which not only honed the kicking boots of the All Blacks first five-eighth (and record test point’s scorer), but saved the Carter’s a small fortune of roof and gutter repair as a young Dan punted an uncountable number of kicks.

The same occurred when a certain Sonny Bill Williams put on a Belfast jersey (a Christchurch club and SBW’s debut rugby match in New Zealand).

The 14-test All Black has spawned a countless number of off-loading clones throughout the country, and while some, notably former Springboks coach Peter de Villiers, claimed such play wasn’t proper rugby – there was no denying the impact that imitation has on budding rugby stars.

On the other end of the scale there is space for the ungainly giants of our youth, with Sam Whitelock proving (along with the Frank’s brothers) that the exclusive tight five club in the international arena is not merely the province of grizzled campaigners.

Sam may not have needed to look beyond his family for inspiration, with grandfather John and dad Braeden playing (the latter for the Junior All Blacks).

Sam and his brothers George, Luke and Adam all play rugby; and the four had the unique honour of being named in the Crusaders starting XV against the Hurricanes in a pre-season Investec Super Rugby match at Mangatainoka.

With the Whitelock farm barely half an hour drive away, proud parents Braeden and Caroline watched their four sons fulfilling their rugby dream.

Of course, we must mention Chiefs prop Sono Taumalolo, whose try scoring feats (with seven so far in the 2012 Super Rugby season) have turned the affable forward into a cult hero.

One wouldn’t be surprised if a few practice that trademark burrow for the try line in their own backyards.