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Saturday, December 10, 2005


Virtual rugby guru reveals his cunning plan


By Chris Rattue

As Tana Umaga wrestles with the decision over his test career, another rugby champion will also use the summer months to determine his future.

Gair McSkimming, 33, an Alexandra-raised, Auckland-based director of a meat export/import company, is the latest winner of the staggeringly popular Virtual NPC tipping competition and he, too, is weighing up a return to competition.

More than 100,000 opponents knew him as WFI NZ (his company's name) during the NPC, when virtual turned into title reality for McSkimming, a Northcote flanker who captains the North Harbour under-85kg team. He beat all-comers to be crowned the champion tipster for the competition, covering the three NPC divisions.

Not that you have anything to be crowned with. No silverware that is - just a phone call from the New Zealand Rugby Union confirming about $20,000 worth of travel to the US is in the post.

But, as McSkimming tells us, it wasn't all fun and games. A man who plunges the deep blue in his spare time reckons dallying with sharks is a doddle compared to the terror of leading a cyber-comp. When the word is out that you've got the tipping tour yellow jersey, the pressure piles up. He (very briefly) even contemplated pulling out during the final weeks.

Here, McSkimming reveals the highs and lows, the tactics, the lonely moments of a champion, and how he deals with the adulation. He even gives an expert's tip on Tana.

How was your early season form? I really didn't pay much attention to the competition until I started leading it. I wouldn't say I was right into it. In the first few weeks I put my picks in on the Monday morning, although later I watched things much more closely. What was your score? I don't know. I won by 10 points. I leapt from 25th to first with three rounds to go. Your previous best? Haven't got a clue.

What about those final moments, when victory was in your grasp? The fun was gone in the last three weeks. It was more nerve racking. Everyone in the meat industry was following me. There was plenty of banter coming my way. Up to 90 strangers tracked my form on the website. All of a sudden you've got something to lose. The guy who came second, who used the name Graham Henry, was also tracking me. I emailed him in the final weeks and said, "This isn't fun any more". He agreed.

Where were you as victory beckoned? I started watching the second division final between Nelson Bays and Hawkes Bay at a friend's place in Taipa [Northland] but I couldn't stand it, so I drove back to where we were staying in Paihia. On the way I ran into the pub at Waipapa - they turned the TV on and there were a few minutes left in the game. I needed Rico Gear to score a try but he knocked the ball on. I stood up and yelled "Nooooooooo", dumped my ginger beer down, and walked out. There were about 10 people there and they just stared at me like "Who the heck was that guy?"

Sometimes it felt like I was actually playing. Your wife must have loved this? Ahleen has no interest whatsoever in rugby. But I'm told she sat and watched the whole Hawkes Bay/Nelson Bays game. Although when I got back to Paihia she claimed "I watched a little bit of it". Your workmates must have loved it as well? They reckon I've been pretty painful.

So what's the tip on tipping? I don't know if I should tell you this. Okay. I really love the second and third division stuff and a lot of people don't pay enough attention to it. When you think about it, you can score more points there than in the first division. So I knew that Buller had a load of Canterbury players and Wairarapa Bush had players from Wellington. I did really well in the second and third divisions.

Another key is to pick 13 and over margins. People pick too many close results whereas a lot of scores blow out in rugby these days. What was your best pick? Canterbury to beat Auckland by 13 and over in the Ranfurly Shield challenge.

What's your rugby pedigree? Tarnished - although I used to have a few good Saturday nights. A highlight was captaining the Kerikeri senior reserves to a final win. Honestly, some of the boys had tears in their eyes. I made my senior debut for Kerikeri against an Ohaeawai team which had the three Woodman brothers in it. A glorious night when all your preparation came together? Kind of. The power went out at Muriwai where we live. I had to sit in the car alone, listening to the radio. I kept saying, "Come on, come on".

Worst pick? My brother is in King Country and persuaded me to pick them to beat Horowhenua-Kapiti in the semifinals. I changed my pick. That's the end of taking his advice. How have you dealt with the fame? Winning is surreal. People's reactions have really surprised me. We were at a function in Christchurch recently and my business partner said one guy just stared at me like I was some kind of rugby God. Another bloke told me his kid would love to meet me. Will you be back? Still mulling it over - 70/30 yes. What would stop me? Ego. But I want to see if my systems work again. And what about Tana? I reckon he's 70/30, to continue. Maybe I'll ring him. Of course he's got $500,000 a year to think about.


Ha where are you now wpw?
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