Rugby ace Bigsy lays career bare

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A rampaging John McLay on the rugby paddock.
A rampaging John McLay on the rugby paddock.

By Mick Jensen

A skirmish with a former All Black, high profile games for Mid Canterbury and other sporty exploits will be recounted in a book on the life of local rugby stalwart John “Bigsy” McLay.

McLay clocked up more than 100 caps and scored 16 tries for Mid Canterbury over nine years. He was part of the side that reigned supreme in the first half of the 1980s.

Memorable games include an encounter against the British & Irish Lions in 1983, watched by 10,000 people at the Ashburton Showgrounds.

McLay also “enjoyed” a slap from former All Black Grizz Wylie, after landing on the Canterbury legend’s neck and “giving him some verbal” in a game.

Rugby has been a big part of McLay’s life and when he gave up the game, he coached and mentored young players in Under 18 and senior sides.

He’s also wrestled for the South Island, played Aussie rules for the district and turned his hand to many sports.

These days he suffers from Huntington’s Disease, but with a positive mindset and competitive streak, has turned his hand to outdoor bowls.

John Aitken McLay grew up on the family farm at Ruapuna, where he attended primary school before going to St Andrew’s College.

It was at school and aged 13 that he was given the nickname Bigsy because of his extra large size 12 feet.

A passion for the game has seen him play for school teams, Lincoln College, where he obtained a diploma in agriculture, and various representative and club sides.

He play alongside his brother Peter for the Mayfield club and for two years for Mt Somers.

As a rampaging No 8, he was not overly tall at 185cm, but was solidly built, had a turn of speed and was not afraid to get physical.

“In all my rugby games, I only ever left the the field once because of injury. It was pretty physical on the paddock in those days, but I loved that.”

He said his distinctive cauliflower ears were testament to numerous scrum encounters.

McLay’s colourful life has also included a one-year stint as volunteer teacher and farmer in the Solomons, running a mixed cropping, cattle, sheep and pig farm at Ruapuna and operating a shearing run.

He has collaborated with Val Taylor, the wife of his boyhood friend and neighbour Kevin Taylor, for the book.

The pair have sat down over many sessions and used an old scrapbook to help recount stories from the past.

Mrs Taylor will complete her research over two more sessions and her daughter Anna Taylor, who is an English teacher at Rangitoto College, will write the book.

Val Taylor, who has had a number of religious teaching books published and describes herself as a strict “non sports fan”, said she was persuaded to get involved because of the “zone of positivity” that is evident in John McLay’s sporting life.

In research discussions she hadn’t known the names of players mentioned, a fact that was highlighted at John McLay’s 60th birthday party last year when a fellow called “Richie” was talked about.

Richie turned out to be All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, who is John McLay’s nephew.

A book on John McLay’s life should be completed by March year.