Thursday, June 13, 2024

Finlay Christie: Red, Blue and (All) Black

As the Super Rugby season reaches a crescendo, eyes turn to September’s Rugby World Cup. JON RAWLINSON spoke with a talented scrumhalf whose lofty goals could see him rise to these occasions and more.
Finlay Christie . Photo Steve McArthur, Photosport

Searching for background about the Blues’ firecracker halfback, a common question is: ‘who is the ginger All Black?’ As there have been a few top All Blacks with ruby locks atop in the past, we would do well to refrain from calling Finlay Christie ‘blue’ (in the Australian tradition) just yet. He asserts he needs to earn that ‘jersey’.

“I guess I am the current one, though,” he says. “I’m holding that baton for now, but I will pass it on at some stage.”

These days, his flaring red hair may well signal a red flag among his opponents, and be more conspicuous to fans, but his rapid distribution, when ‘feeding the backs’, and agility prove red actually means ‘go’!

“[Speed] it’s a strength of mine, but I can still improve on it. We have some crazy athletes who can do a lot with the ball, so the faster I can get it out to them, the more time they have to use it,” he says. “I was a gymnast for about nine years; I was about seven when I started, while I was at school.

Gymnastics is great for fitness, strength and flexibility. I think a lot of those skills have transferred over and helped me [with rugby].”

Finlay originally hails from Hawick – the original ‘Howick’, in the lowlands of Scotland, that is. He also attended Saint Kentigern College where he honed his sporting skills.

“[The school] had great resources and the rugby trainers and coaches were all experienced. The training schedule was pretty intense,” he recalls. “It was a borderline professional outfit and we were training four or five times a week.”

Renowned for developing rugby talent, Saint Kents is the alma mater of numerous All Black’s including Finlay’s current Blues’ teammate and captain, Dalton Papalii. However, his talent wasn’t truly recognised until years later by ex-All Black great and former Blues’ coach, Tana Umaga.

Following a stint with the Steelers’ Under 19 squad and starring for Canterbury University, ‘Fin’ made his mark as a shark, joining the Tasman Mako.

“I knew stuff all about Nelson to be honest, but I’ve absolutely loved it – great guys, real close mates – and it kickstarted my career. I’m strongly connected to Tasman now.”

At Super Rugby level, Finlay was on the 2017 Chiefs’ roster before joining the Hurricanes (2018-19) followed by the Blues in 2020. Since then, he has become a crucial part of the Auckland-based franchise.

Heading into the Super Rugby Pacific knockout stage, the Blues (2022 runners-up) remained in contention, within the frame for a quarterfinal spot, as this issue went to print. However, long seasons can come to an abrupt halt and there are no prizes for second place.

“Looking back, [2022] was a great season, but losing the final isn’t how you want to finish up,” Finlay adds. “I’m really confident that, with the group we have and the way we play, we can win us a title this year. That’s the goal and anything short of that will be a bit of a failure in our eyes.”

Back in black?

All Blacks’ selectors may have a headache (a good one!) when finalising their choice of halfbacks for September’s Rugby World Cup. Among the options, Blues’ half, Finlay Christie, is making a solid case. Beyond Super Rugby, the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup should give him opportunities to impress.

“If I keep doing what I’m doing and I’ll have a chance,” the 14-cap All Black says. “I’m trying to focus on the Blues, but if I get that right, [All Black selection] might come. I’m trying to keep my goals and my thought process pretty short term – I think that’s the best way for me.”

The other ‘usual suspects’ for the nine jersey (Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara and Brad Weber) aren’t exactly giants, but they are all ‘big for their boots’, likely inclusions barring injury. And, with Cameron Roigard (Hurricanes) and even Finlay’s Blues’ teammate, Sam Nock (another Saint Kents’ prodigy), knocking on the selectors’ door, competition for World Cup spots is tight.

“[Smith, Perenara and Weber] have been ‘the guys’ for the last 10 years or so now,” Finlay says. “I definitely don’t expect anything. I need to earn everything and there’s a lot of good nines around the country at the moment so the competition’s going to be tough.”

The location of this year’s Rugby World Cup, France, may bring back grim memories of a certain calamitous cup, the 2007 edition. As in 2007, the All Blacks’ pool doesn’t appear too daunting this time, on paper at least. But the opener (against France) will see sparks fly as two heavyweights compete. And, later, a quarterfinal clash between the All Blacks and Scotland is not out of the question.

“Growing up, if Scotland was getting up against the All Blacks we’d be going for Scotland,” Finlay says. “But if the All Blacks were doing the business, then we’d be cheering for them.”

If the All Blacks field their ‘great Scot’ during such an encounter, it’s unlikely the Christie family’s loyalties will favour Scotland, however brave!

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