A simple bucket list request for a rugby match with mates turned into a game watched by 4000 people and attended by some legends of New Zealand rugby in Winton on Saturday.
The Blair Vining Bucket List Rugby Game was held in support of Winton resident and record holder for the most games played for the Midlands Rugby Club Blair Vining to raise funds for a foundation set up in his name to support local sporting talent. Mr Vining was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer last year, which spread to his liver and lungs, and his idea to hold a rugby game to raise funds for his foundation exploded into what was the biggest rugby game seen in Winton in quite some time.
Two star-studded teams hit the turf for the game, including former All Blacks Jimmy Cowan and Mils Muliaina. The game was also attended by current All Blacks Anton Lienert-Brown and Sam Cane, who had some last-minute drama getting there.
“I had some bad luck with flights,” Cane said.
“One got cancelled early, then there was a bus ride and another flight and a chopper ride. We made it right on kick-off, so it was a bit of fairy tale in the end.”
Mr Vining’s wife and event organiser Melissa Vining was overwhelmed with the offers of support when she announced on the game’s Facebook page it looked likely one of the star attractions would miss the match.
She said she had offers for five helicopters and an aeroplane to help ferry Cane, who is Mr Vining’s favourite player, to the game.
“I felt quite tearful when people sorted out the helicopter … I’m not much of a rugby fan, so I don’t really understand how important it is, but just the fact that Sam would get himself on a shuttle and go to Auckland and these local people would step up and get us a helicopter and chopper him in is just emotional.”
Lienert-Brown said he wanted to show his support for Mr Vining, whom he described as a “great man”.
“It’s a great cause for what he is doing, so it’s a great turnout and to be here is pretty special.”
Despite being told by doctors he was not fit to play, Mr Vining took to the pitch on several occasions and was his team’s designated field goal kicker, receiving rapturous applause every time.
Donations from a variety of community organisations and local businesses had all helped to put the event together. A sold-out black tie event held after the game raised further funds for the foundation, which will support athletes at Central Southland College and give them the same opportunities for further sporting endeavours as they would find in schools in larger population centres.
It is hoped the event will turn into an annual one.
This article was originally written for The Otago Daily Times. You can read the published version here