Rugby Union: The serious side of Blackadder

The captain of the team they call the second best in the world has one ambition - to play for the best team; David Llewellyn talks to the leader of the first-rate All Black Second XV
He has heard them all, the jokes, the asides and the smart-arsed one liners; he's seen the television series (and enjoyed it), and he even has his own customised T-shirt. But the only thing he has in common with the Ben Elton and Rowan Atkinson creation is his name - Todd Blackadder.

And last Tuesday, as Blackadder led his knot of vipers - the midweek All Blacks team - off the pitch at the McAlpine Stadium, Huddersfield, after one of the most complete demolition jobs ever perpetrated against an Emerging England side boasting 12 internationals, he experienced one of the proudest moments of his life.

No one who witnessed the clinical dissection of what was, to all intents and purposes an England A team, was in any doubt. If this was New Zealand's Second XV, then there were not many First XVs who could live with them - if any.

But the victory, and manner of it, was merely what Blackadder had expected. "Most of the players in the midweek side have been playing in the Super 12 tournament and the national Provincial Championship back home, and they are very tough competitions. We had Jonah Lomu on one wing, Tana Umaga on the other and Walter Little at second five eighth [inside centre], and he has 44 New Zealand caps, and with players of that calibre we really demanded a big performance of each other."

That is just what they produced. And while the 26-year-old was not prepared quite to admit that they could have run the All Blacks Test team close, or even beaten them, he did concede: "I'd like to think that the midweek team was putting real pressure on the Test team."

But Blackadder shies away from talk of these "Dirt Trackers" being the second best team in the world. "I've never actually played in a Test. In fact quite a few of the guys in that side are untried at Test level," said Blackadder, who captained Canterbury to the Provincial Championship last season. "All we were doing was trying to lift our game after an unsatisfactory performance against Wales A."

That performance ended in a 51-8 thrashing by the tourists; the unsatisfactory aspect of the massacre being that it took the All Blacks so long to get going. But they finally clicked and after an hour last Tuesday Emerging England suffered the backlash for those lost 60 minutes.

The glow that the performance gave Blackadder certainly was good. "This was the best feeling I've ever had from playing in a midweek team. We were really on our game. It was one of those efforts you feel really proud about. It was great just being out there and knowing that your team-mates were putting everything into it. But it was just one good game and the match against England A will be a better test."

It is rather surprising that Blackadder does not have a nickname like Snake, or Baldrick (the fictional character's cringeing sidekick), though when you consider his size - 6ft 3in of muscle and bone weighing in at almost 16st - maybe no one dared christen him with anything more frivolous than the one he answers to - the rather tame Toddy.

But according to those close to him in the All Blacks squad, Blackadder is something of a character. Tame is not a word used to describe him. "He has a wry sense of humour," said one colleague. "On the field he is a real hard-ass, but off the pitch he is real salt of the earth."

Blackadder has ambitions. One, to be frank. "I'd like to play for my country. Every child grows up in New Zealand wanting to play for their country. I don't know how near I am, but I just want to keep playing well and then if the opportunity ever arose, I'd take it like anyone would." And if it never happens? "I can't say because I can't see into the future."

Blackadder, like a lot of New Zealand's top players, occupies much of what little spare time rugby allows him with his family - wife Priscilla, six-year-old daughter Shinane and two-year-old son Ethan. He will play a little tennis or go for walks with the family down to the beach at Rangiora. There is a modest, temperate approach to life outside the game. Blackadder is something of a stoic, rather like his Scottish forebears must have been when they emigrated to the Southern Hemisphere. "There are maybe a dozen or 15 families with the family name, scattered around the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand," explained Blackadder, "and we are all related.

"When I was in Scotland for the 1993 Rugby Sevens World Cup I met a local Blackadder, who let me have a family tree, which I took back for an aunt of mine to study. She has worked out that we originated in the Borders when one of the surviving sons of a massacre up there fled the country and settled in New Zealand."

And while New Zealand rugby teams continue to dominate the world game, this modern day descendant of those pioneering Scots is looking to hyphenate the family name - to All-Blackadder.