By Joseph Barratt - New Zealand Herald
Getting fit and mateship are two of the many reasons John Christie strapped on his boots and got back on to the rugby field. He is one of a growing number of New Zealand men playing rugby into their middle years. The 41-year-old owner of Mitre 10 Mega in Titirangi says plenty of firm friendships have been made on a rugby paddock. "It's more than just fitness."
New Zealand Rugby Union figures show 6637 men over age 34 ran out on to the field last year. That's up around a third on 2002, when just 4976 played.
It's not news to Christie. "I've noticed a real lift in interest with the team as compared to two or three years ago." The married father of three is a player and coach for Marist Old Boys in the presidents' grade and has to juggle team commitments with the kids' sports run. "It can make Saturday mornings pretty tough," he laughs. He had a few years off rugby and came back to the sport a decade ago. Some of the guys now signing up have never played before, or not since since their teenage years, he says. "Some of them might not have ever had the opportunity to play when they were younger. That's what is so good about our league. Everyone goes hard on the field but it's all in good fun and they enjoy themselves."
Brent "Buck" Anderson, former All Black and general manager of provincial union and community rugby for the NZRU, said people were becoming more aware of their health.
"People are realising health and fitness is important and rugby is a pretty good way to achieve that." He said social leagues were a great way for people to enjoy the game without the same risks of getting hurt. He said the oldest current player on union records is an 84-year-old in the South Island.
Age is no barrier
- Former All Black captain Tana Umaga, 36, has signed as a player/coach for Counties-Manukau.
- The oldest current All Black is lock Brad Thorn, 35.
- Forty-year-old quarterback Brett Favre took the Minnesota Vikings to within a game of the Super Bowl.
- At last year's Open Championship 60-year-old American PGA golfer Tom Watson became the oldest player to lead a major going into the last round.