JUST in case any member of the Scottish press pack was thinking of getting cute about a player born in this neck of the woods lining up in an All Black jersey at Murrayfield on Sunday, Kiwi head coach Ian Foster made sure he landed a pre-emptive counter-punch as soon as Finlay Christie’s name was mentioned during today’s [Friday] team announcement press conference.
“We got one and you guys got about 50,” quipped Foster, which is a fair point given the number of ‘kilted kiwis’ who have worn the dark blue jersey with varying degrees of distinction over the years.
“But we quite like our one so we appreciate the donation,” he added, tongue firmly pressed to cheek. “Finlay is a quality person and he has played his way into the squad with some really good performances. The fact we named him to start is a sign of our confidence in him. He is proud of his background up here in Scotland, but he is also very proud to be a New Zealander.”
Christie was born in the Borders General Hospital just outside Melrose 27 years ago and spent his formative years in nearby Peebles, then briefly in Aberdeen, before emigrating with his family to New Zealand aged seven.
His mother, Liz, and father, Chris, still speak with Scottish accents, and his older brother, Gregor, currently lives in Scotland and plays club rugby for Currie Chieftains in the Premiership.
The whole clan will be at Murrayfield on Sunday, and Finlay – who has replaced Aaron Smith in the All Blacks starting XV – says he isn’t sure which team they will be rooting for.
“I think they’ll be happy either way, so its win-win for them,” he smiled. “It has been on my bucket list for wee while to play at Murrayfield, so it will be pretty cool. I’d say it will be a bit more special for the parents but I’m looking forward to it.”
Christie also revealed that he thinks – although he isn’t 100 percent sure – that he and his brother are named after great Scottish rugby players of yesteryear. Asked if his name might relate to Finlay Calder, he smiles in recognition and says: “That could be the one.” When is asked if brother Gregor’s moniker might have something to do with the current Scotland coach, he recoils slightly before stating firmly: “I don’t know about that.” (Maybe it is Gregor McKenzie, the prop who was capped once against Australia in 1984?)
The family settled in Pukekohe in South Auckland after their switch from Scotland, and he represented New Zealand in gymnastics at age-grade level before focussing in on rugby. He won the Hawkins Medal as Canterbury’s top club player whilst playing for the University of Canterbury in 2016, helped Tasman to their first and second ever Mitre 10 Cup triumphs in 2019 and 2020, and has played Super Rugby since 2018 with the Hurricanes and then the Blues.
Inevitably, given Scottish Rugby’s voracious appetite for overseas recruitment, the scrum-half received a call from the motherland and he didn’t dismiss the overture without giving it some thought, but ultimately the pull of the Black jersey was too strong to seriously contemplate a change of allegiance at that stage.
“It was sort of through Covid and things didn’t really work out, so I guess I’m happy with where I stayed and it’s worked our quite well so far,” he explains, clearly uncomfortable with any sort of suggestion that his head might have been turned away – even briefly – away from the dream of playing for the All Blacks.
Christie’s commitment was rewarded in July 2021 when he made his international debut in a 102-0 demolition of Tonga, and Sunday will be his 14th Test but only his third international start.
He will have a familiar ally at half-back on Sunday with his Blues team-mate Beauden Barrett being shifted forward to wear the No 10 jersey. Speaking before the Scotland team had been announced, the 110-times capped 31-year-old was asked whether the potential return of Finn Russell changes his approach to the game.
“It doesn’t, a hell of a lot, to be honest,” he replied. “Obviously, we are aware of Hastings and Finn and the strengths they can bring, but I think you just have to look at a team’s trends and the way they play as a team rather than focussing on the individual too much.
Given that Adam Hastings was ruled out of the match on Monday, it is fair to say that New Zealand have been focussing on themselves this week and fairly disengaged from the psychodrama playing out in Scottish rugby circles.