People

Captain Fantastic

On his last day as Editor of Whisky Magazine,we sat Dominic Roskrow with a special whisky and let him speak to one of his sporting heroes, All Blacks legend Sean Fitzpatrick
By Dominic Roskrow
As one of the greatest rugby union players of all time, former Auckland and All Black captain Sean Fitzpatrick has faced some intimidating situations.But nothing – not the South African front row, the powerhouse that is Martin Johnson, or the baying of 80,000 passionate rugby fans – has scared him quite as much as teeing off at the first hole at St Andrews Old Course.“Playing international rugby in front of a full stadium is a walk in the park compared to playing in the Dunhill Links Championship,” he says. “At the Old Course you’re in front of the clubhouse and it’s totally nerveracking.I’m outside my comfort zone and that’s tough.” Fitzpatrick, who retired from rugby in 1998 after a staggering 92 tests for the All Blacks, more than 50 as captain, is in Scotland in October to compete in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championships for the third time. It’s a tournament that partners professional players with talented amateur players over three world class Scottish courses.For Fitzpatrick it’s become an important date in the diary, for several reasons.“I guess the great thing about what we do is we’re fortunate enough to get the chance to do wonderful things and to see great places.“Scotland is like that. It’s the home of golf and it’s the most wonderful place.Whenever my wife and I come up to Scotland we meet fantastic people. So much so that we realise that every person we met we liked. We have such a great time there.” Home these days is close to Windsor in South East London. Sean and his wife decided some three years ago as they turned 40 that it would be good for their children to be brought up in Europe to give them a different perspective.This comes as something of a surprise.Anyone who had the pleasure of seeing the great hooker in a black shirt leading his country could be in no doubt of his commitment to his country’s cause. For New Zealanders rugby is much more than a sport – it’s a way of life.“Sure, New Zealand’s a very beautiful and wonderful place,” he says, “but it’s a very long way away. My wife and I both love travelling and being here give us the opportunity to do that.” The golf helps too, though Fitzpatrick admits that he has accepted that he will never fully master the game, he’s enjoying himself immensely.“That’s the thing about golf, I don’t think you ever fully master it. But it’s a great outlet for a competitive person like myself. When I started playing I decided I’d approach it with the same seriousness as I did my All Blacks training. But I quickly realised that I was never going to be outstanding at it.“So I’ve become a very relaxed golfer and enjoy it for the sake of the game. And also it’s been a lot of fun meeting some of my old adversaries on the golf course – people like (Australia’s) Michael Lynagh and (South Africa’s) Francois Pienaar. The great thing about rugby is most of what happens on the pitch stays on the pitch and so meeting these guys over golf has been great.” Fitzpatrick is one of the greatest rugby players of all time, and as anyone knows who has ever crossed a committed New Zealander, the love of rugby is just below the surface. Unsurprisingly he has been able to carve out a career as a rugby commentator and analyst, not least because few people have ever read the game as well as he does.These days he works for Sky and is delighted by how seriously rugby is now covered across the world, but in Britain in particular. And it’s highly optimistic that his beloved All Blacks are on the verge of returning to where they rightfully belong – on top of the world.“I am very impressed in the way they are doing things,” he says. “They have gone back to basics, learnt from English rugby and put their efforts in to the scrum. They have the best scrum in the world now, are fitter and faster than everyone else, and are moving forward nicely.“Their only weakness is the line out but they can work on that. And before the World Cup I’d like to see them play more of their ‘A’ squad players on a regular basis. I’m no fan of the rotation system because I believe the key to their success will be experience and knowing the formations together. But it is all looking very good.” With that it’s time for Fitzpatrick to get back to the practice range and counter those nerves before teeing off at St Andrews.