By my fifth year at Ashburton College, I was still a reasonably talented midfield back, representing my province Mid-Canterbury at most underage levels. I didn't play rugby to the exclusion of all else, but that changed in Year Six, my second last year at secondary school.
In the space of 12 months, I suddenly spurted, shooting up and out like a bean sprout. Out of the blue I was tall and, due to a summer lifting weights at the school gym with Richard Taylor, Parry Jones and Richard Smith, I was also fairly muscular.
Our school rugby coach, Bevan Bain, took me aside pre-season and informed me that, henceforth, I was to be a second- row for the first XV that year.
SECOND BLOODY ROW!
I bitterly protested. I was a centre – everybody knew that. I even had the shoulder-length, mullet hairstyle and the headband to go with the centre's image.
Second-rows, or locks as they are called in New Zealand, were considered the donkeys of the team – big mulluckers whose main image centred around a pair of cauliflower ears. Locks with banged-up ears were certainly not a woman's choice of player: girls liked the flashy types, the lads who ran in tries and made scintillating breaks.
Centres, and backs in general, held infinitely more romantic appeal than blokes who stuck their heads between squat props' legs and grabbed their groins during scrums. And, like all young, testosterone-riddled adolescent males, meeting girls was important to me in those days.
So, I cursed coach Bain's decision to demote me from my starring role in the centre of the rugby pitch. I cursed him all the harder when I had to start taping up my ears, jumping in the line-out and pushing in the scrum.