Of the things I miss about my time as an All Black, touring has to be near the top of the list. As the All Blacks get set to embark on their northern tour later this month, I thought I would take a trip down memory lane and share my experiences of touring with the All Blacks. Touring is one of the special times as an All Black. It certainly isn’t what it used to be at the start of the 20th century, when the team could be away for up to six months at a time.
When I came into the side, our longest stretch away from home was six weeks. And with the changing nature of international rugby, out of my 128 games for the All Blacks, I only played one game against a side other than a national team. That was Munster in 2008. My first tour for the All Blacks in 2008 started in Hong Kong for a game against the Wallabies. For some reason, we all got individual rooms that week, which would’ve normally been pretty nice but, for someone in their first week as an All Black, it was very stressful. You could tell who was new in the team by who kept going up and down to the team room to check the calendar on the wall.
This was when the next day’s programme was printed out and stuck on the wall in the team room. I would be in my room stressing I was missing a meeting, so I would go down and check the calendar every five minutes. Aside from when I was captain, generally on tour you have a roomie every week. Each week we would have a different roommate. They tended to keep guys in similar positions rooming together, so I roomed a lot with other loose forwards and locks.
I know some guys now room with the same person for the entire tour, whereas I feel mixing up the roomies meant you got to know more people in the squad – you have plenty of time to chat with your roommate and find out more about them, which is great for team cohesion. The All Blacks this year start their UK portion of the tour in Wales. If there is another country that is just as or perhaps more passionate about rugby than us, it is Wales. We get to stay at a hotel in the middle of the city, which is awesome as you get to feel the vibe of the city change as it gets closer to game day.
Cardiff has the Principality Stadium, which is right in the middle of the city with hundreds of pubs surrounding it. What Cardiff also throws at you is autograph hunters. These are guys, generally middle-aged men, who we suspected were getting our signatures for their own financial gain (check out eBay). They would stand outside our hotel day and night in freezing conditions trying to get our signatures. The big names are always highly sought after, so the McCaws, the Carters and the Nonus were in demand. It would become a game for us to try and slip through the net and get out of the hotel for a walk or a coffee. Ma’a Nonu was particularly good at this, often going to elaborate lengths to evade the guys through disguises and luring them away towards someone else, like a sacrificial lamb being sent to the slaughter. While they were being swamped, Ma’a would walk calmly out the opposite door.
Edinburgh is my favourite city to visit, maybe because I debuted there at Murrayfield, but also because we would stay right in the Old Town. We had all the history of the city and the castle just a short walk away. Generally, someone will put Braveheart on when we are staying in Scotland, and I had the privilege of going to visit the William Wallace memorial one year – where they keep his broadsword. It is the largest sword I have ever seen and he must’ve been one strong man to wield it as he did. For all the history that surrounds you in Scotland, there is always one tradition that happens every time we visit. Pig racing… well, they are toy pigs with batteries that help them move along a racetrack. It brings many a laugh with the guys. And we all put bets on our favourite pigs to try and win some money... on a toy pig.
The All Blacks finish this year’s tour at Twickenham. London is a cool place to tour as the size of the city allows you to get lost pretty easily, and rugby is drowned out by football so you can get around without any bother. It’s just a case of figuring out the Tube. The highlight of playing England is definitely playing at Twickenham. Not only because of the history of the stadium but the closeness of the crowd and the songs they sing. When you arrive on the bus the entrance is lined with people, and as you walk into the stadium you’re cheered on (or mostly jeered at) by the fans.
The English know how to get behind their team as well, and hearing them belt out ‘God Save the Queen’ and ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ was an amazing experience. There is also nothing better than beating the English, having a lovely warm bath in the changing sheds, and then hearing all their members try and tell us how good they think their team is and how unlucky they were at the after-match. Whatever. I have some amazing memories from my northern tours, but those memories aren’t just for the scrapbook.
Yes, there are some amazing perks and benefits that come with touring with the All Blacks; however, building closer connections while on tour isn’t just a perk – it can have an extremely positive effect on the team’s fortunes. A strong social connection between the players helps build a great culture, which in turn builds a great connection on the field. On tour you also have a bit more downtime and less distractions, which allows you to spend more time doing your analysis and chatting with your teammates about the game. It’s no wonder some of my best weeks in the All Blacks were spent while I was away on tour.
played 127 Tests for the All Blacks and captained them on 52 occasions.
He founded Kieran Read Leadership.
Visit www.kieranread.co.nz for more information.
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