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The All Blacks hooker, considered one of the best rugby players of all time, takes a personal journey with Laureus.com through his life in sport.
Words by Sean Fitzpatrick
On a childhood of rugby
In New Zealand, everyone played rugby, so you didn’t really have much choice. But it was my father who said to me: “Son, you can play any sport as long as it’s a team sport.” This was great advice looking back, but little did I know there was really no other choice.
I was only four then, but our whole life revolved around sport. Saturday would be spent at the rugby club with the whole family. Your mother would run the tuck shop, dad would be coaching and you’d always stay to watch the senior team after running around in the mud with your mates.
I wasn’t great back then, I was just enjoying myself. But it was that team ethos and looking after each other that felt important.
On All Black beginnings
I didn’t start taking rugby seriously until I was about 16 and I wasn’t 20 until I thought “hey, maybe I could make it as an All Black”.
One of the biggest turning points came when I was still a young player and thought I was pretty good and went away with a rugby team that had a lot of All Blacks in it.
I was 20 then, a bit of a hot shot, and I went to through the ball in at a line out and there was one guy there, a famous All Black, who shouted after “Hey, get it right!”.
I hadn’t realized that my line out throwing just wasn’t good enough. And, in no uncertain terms, he told me to… well, he told me to go away and come back when I’d learnt how to do it properly.
I ended up going away for two years.
It was a matter of saying: “I’m not good enough” and give in, or say “right, I want to be back in that team.” So, it was a case of finding the best thrower in New Zealand and every Monday night having this guy teach me for three hours.
Nine months later that All Black who had told me to shove off was there. He said to me: “I hear you’ve been doing some extra work. Well, I want to help you.” He worked with me another nine months.
After that, I was chosen to be an All Black.
I ended up getting the knack of it.
On his work with Laureus
When I was young, you could really tell which children played team sports; they were different when it came to dealing with issues in life generally, dealing with success and failure. It’s then that young people often get into trouble, when they aren’t in an environment where they are supported that way.
That’s how I often relate to the youngsters we work with at Laureus. They didn’t always have the mentors and people advising them. And that’s what matters at Laureus; not that you’re a great rugby player, boxer, but that you’re mixing with others and getting the chance to realise: “Hey, other kids have the same problems as me too.”
That’s why when I meet the kids we work with I tell them that they’re lucky. Lucky to have this opportunity and that it’s up to them to take it and make the most of it, just like I did.
I tell them that I made mistakes in my life, but that often it’s those mistakes, those wrong roads taken, that can one day turn out to be the right roads because you’ve learnt valuable lessons from them. Especially if you have the right people around you.