A man at Napier airport, who was wearing the All Blacks jersey and hat, asked: "What happened last night?" Working on a hunch, I countered: "Didn't you see it, mate?" "Yeah, I saw it." "Then you know what happened, don't you?" OK, so perhaps I was being a bit touchy and perhaps the mild malaise brought about by the night before had shortened my normally medium-length fuse, but this was a level of smugness that, at that point, I could not handle.
The queue for customs snaked on and, in between daydreams of making a run for it to escape the desperately awful world of air travel, I had time to reflect on my actions. Three minutes later the Kiwi chap and I were like old friends; he mocked my "Blackadder" accent while I lamented the absence of any Maori genes in my bloodline. Having repaired this mini-relationship I felt much better about life as I walked on.
This was, after all, not a touchy, angry tour. It was a proper, hard, meaty, fun tour and that is how I intend to remember it. Rugby really is a wonderful way to earn a living. It takes us to all manner of places, acts as the introduction to so many different people and puts before us so many challenges that, surely, no other job does. Last week's match against the New Zealand Maori was an evening I will never forget. It was the first time I have ever played against a team from New Zealand and, therefore, the first time I have faced a haka. I absolutely loved it.
The choreography was a feat in itself; it looked incredible. But more impressive than that was the level of respect given to it by the Maori players themselves. Every single one of them bought into it like it was the last thing they would ever do and performed it with such intensity and pride that I, myself, found it an inspiration. I am not sure if we Englishmen were supposed to smile during it but I found it happening and I could not stop it. After the match I asked one of the players to tell me what the words meant.
Out of respect (and a poor memory) I shan't offer a translation now but suffice to say, I might not have enjoyed it quite so much had I asked this question before kick-off.
Ultimately it's maddening to finish a tour with a defeat. I suppose with two wins, two losses and a draw we come out of the trip about even. When this experience ages enough to be just a memory, I guess that is how it will feel in my mind but now, sitting at home looking at my still-fresh stud marks and bleeding cauliflower ear, it kills me that we did not win.
Of course, I'll get over it; that is what the summer is for. A month with no meetings, no rules, no dress code and, most importantly, no collisions for my body to absorb. Still, being a young whippersnapper, soreness rarely affects me but I am told the older geezers really feel the benefit of a good rest.
For me it is more than physical recuperation that makes July such a vital month in my year. I get to wake up late, walk the dogs in my own time and be available to help the seven-month-old critter who, for someone so small, seems to demand an awful lot of time and attention.
All the talk on the plane home was of lads' holidays and assaults on Las Vegas. Yes, those are some of the greatest days a man can have with his mates and I intend to still be holidaying with the silly boys' club for as long as my waist/hairline will allow, but sometimes, after an especially tough shift, it is nice to just go home and be quiet.
I know that in about three weeks I will again be craving the rigid schedule offered by our fitness staff and will be mad keen for a bit of rough and tumble but for now, while the diary is empty and the sun is out, rugby can wait.
I certainly will not be watching the Maori game on Sky Plus for fear of grinding my teeth down to a paste. In fact, for reasons of nostalgia, I might just dig out that Blackadder box set, close this laptop and waste an afternoon. Because I can.Reuse content