Ruck and Maul: McCaw was just one of the boys among Otago's high achievers


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The Independent Online

Otago Boys' High School welcomed back one of their old boys, the England lock Tom Palmer, last week and showed off the 1997 First XV team photo which included Palmer, the player of the year that season – when he also made the New Zealand Secondary Schools team.

Richie McCaw, a year younger than Palmer, was in the same photo, and would become the 1998 player of the year, but he was beaten to a national schools team place by Sam Harding (later of Northampton) and moved north to study at Lincoln University in Christchurch. And so McCaw went on to be a 100-Test hero of Canterbury and the Crusaders, whereas Harding, who played for Otago and the Highlanders, won just the one cap.

Otago Boys' High has produced 33 All Blacks as well as influential rugby thinkers Charles Saxton and the two Vic Cavanaghs (father and son), who are credited with popularising rucking in the New Zealand game – though they might turn in their graves at the watered-down version of today.

Shaw won't go the whole hog

More memories rekindled in Dunedin at Pirates RFC, where a jersey sent to them by old boy Simon Shaw – another England lock, who played for the club 20 years ago – hangs framed on the clubhouse wall.

The members had it in mind to take "Shawsy" pig-hunting if the big man had a free day. Gory stuff, by all accounts.

Shaw was otherwise engaged sheep-shearing with one of England's sponsors, as you do, but club members were delighted when he popped in last night for a drink and a catch-up after playing in the win over Romania.

I'm still standing room only

Elton John is heading this way for a concert at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium – sorry, the Otago Stadium, as we are obliged to call it under the World Cup's non-naming rights rules.

Tickets for England versus Georgia last weekend were available on the day for NZ$41 (£21). The cheapest seats to see Elton's only New Zealand gig on his tour were more than double that and the only ones available now for the 25 November date start at seven times that amount. Elton a bigger draw than Chris Ashton? Amazing.

Bagpipe ban doesn't hit fan

Also going for a song in Dunedin the other night was the British High Commissioner in New Zealand, Vicky Treadwell, who was guest of honour at the Town Hall for the Last Night of the Proms. We didn't know they'd started.

It turned out to be the Southern Sinfonia's evening of tunes representing the teams playing in Dunedin – a Georgian March, 'Jerusalem', 'Romanian Dances' (OK, they were composed by Bartok, a Hungarian, but never mind) and so on – including a belting aria by the Otago forward turned bass-baritone, Jud Arthur. And it was all live and authentic, unlike the poor blokes welcoming teams on to the field for World Cup matches, blowing into their conch-shell horns to a recorded soundtrack.

Scottish supporters are upset at the ban on bagpipes in stadiums, even though fans are at liberty to keep up a distracting "clack-clack" sound with plastic fans supplied by, guess who, a World Cup sponsor.