Luke Brownlee isn’t a household name in New Zealand rugby but perhaps he should be.
The openside flanker plays for the country’s smallest province, Buller, but is breaking one of New Zealand rugby’s more remarkable records.
Tomorrow against South Canterbury he will make the most consecutive first class appearances, racking up 138 in the cardinal and blue jersey.
A Buller legend since pulling on the No 7 jersey back in 1999 – no-one else has worn it – he usually plays the full 80 minutes.
Brownlee will take the record off Marlborough lock Ray Sutherland and Buller No 8 Tom Stuart.
Brownlee and Stuart actually played together for a year, so to find a Buller programme without one of their names goes back to 1985.
A true grassroots man, it will also be his 163rd appearance for Buller in a row, but not all the games were given first class status.
The 34-year-old reckons he still has a few games left in him as he wants to celebrate fellow loosie Bruce McIlroy’s 50th game.
Brownlee hates the spotlight and grudgingly made himself available for an interview, only because it would help his small union get some exposure.
His first game was a Seddon Shield challenge against Marlborough.
“I remember putting on the jersey and thinking ‘I own it and someone will have a fight on their hands to take it off me’.”
He laughs when he thinks that it was 15 years ago.
“There will be a young buck out there one day who wants it, but not yet. I still get a thrill out of it.”
Brownlee admits for many years it was a battle playing for Buller.
At the start he remembers the occasional win but the past couple of seasons have delivered the highlights.
“Winning the Lochore Cup in 2012 and taking the Seddon Shield off West Coast earlier in the season was a first for me.”
In fact it was the first time for 22 years Buller had made a successful challenge.
Brownlee said the turnaround started under coach Johnny Smith and the two Craigs (current coaches Scanlon and Neil) had made a big difference.
The dairy farmer credits his wife Kathryn’s understanding for his longevity in the game.
“I love it but without her support I wouldn’t be doing it.”
Staying injury-free has also been a key but Brownlee carries a few battle scars.
“I guess I’ve just been lucky.”
Brownlee also finds time to coach his two sons, 10 and eight, in club rugby.
Buller chief executive Brian Ahern said Brownlee was a very dedicated rugby player and family man.
“He is quiet and does not seek the limelight and is admired and respected as a rugby player and person.”
High-flying Buller will be hoping their talisman can stay injury free, as they are unbeaten so far in the Heartland Championships with three wins and sit a point behind South Canterbury, who they face tomorrow.
The sides have clashed in the past two Lochore Cup finals (for fifth to eighth) and are one apiece.
Since the Heartland Championships began Buller have never made the top four, so will be hoping at least one other record disappears in five weeks’ time.