Three years ago, Ross Geldenhuys proved that timing is everything when he left a South African rugby career in which he was destined to be a journeyman (he played for the Pumas, Lions and Bulls, among others) to play in New Zealand.
A year later, he joined the Highlanders – the same year in which they won the Super Rugby championship.
Now back with the Kings, he explains why New Zealand teams are so good:
What makes New Zealand teams so competitive?
Over there everyone wants to play for the All Blacks and to do that, you have to qualify.
That means getting a Super Rugby contract with the franchises. So, every week they pretty much play test footie because they play at pace and with skill, and want to play for the All Blacks.
Having played for a lot of South African teams as well, what is the main difference between South Africa’s and New Zealand’s rugby?
It is a difficult question to answer.
They are taught to have a go from a young age and maybe here we have focused on size and running over people.
At Super Rugby level you cannot run over one or two people because everyone knows how to tackle.
What is the most important thing you learnt from playing – and winning – Super Rugby with the Highlanders?
My time at the Highlanders was all about the team. Everyone bought into the team and we only had three All Blacks: Aaron Smith, Malakai Fekitoa and Ben Smith.
The rest of us were battlers. We had to buy into the team and into our goals, and when we achieved them, more players became All Blacks.
It was all about the buy-in and the team.
Is the British and Irish Lions visit to New Zealand, which is set to take place midyear, a distraction or an incentive?
They are all about incentives there and they don’t fall for distractions.
I think it is going to be a massive incentive for whoever is playing well, because they pick on form there.
Which team do you fancy to win the New Zealand conference?
I thought about this at the end of last year’s Super Rugby. The Blues’ back line is going to be made up of a bunch of stars who will intimidate everyone.
They have guys like Sonny Bill Williams and the Chiefs’ number 9 from last year, Augustine Pulu. They hit their straps towards the end of the season and [head coach] Tana Umaga is in his second year.
It will be closely contested, but the Blues are my team to take that conference because of that back line.
Is there a player in their system whom you think we should look out for?
I think the Crusaders’ 10, Richie Mo’unga. He was pretty good last year, but he was unreal in the Mitre 10 Cup final against us [Tasman].
He will come into his own this year and be much better than last year.
What is the most intimidating venue in New Zealand?
It is probably the Highlanders’ stadium, Forsyth Barr in Dunedin, because of the roof. Even when it’s not full, with the students there, it is pretty loud because there is no rain or wind.
What is the worst thing about New Zealand rugby?
Training when it was teeming down with rain – with the wind howling and the temperature freezing.