It’s not often you get the chance to pick the brains of the absolute best New Zealand has to offer, let alone have that serve as inspiration before going head-to-head with one of the country’s renowned rugby nurseries.
It's an opportunity Central West’s stars gleefully took though, having been afforded the chance to draw on the knowledge of a handful of All Blacks and Black Ferns prior to Wednesday night’s games against Canterbury University.
All Blacks and Crusaders legends Sam Whitelock, Richie Mo’unga and Codie Taylor joined the Central West group for breakfast on Wednesday morning, as did Black Ferns prop Phillipa Love, talking all things rugby and offering plenty of specific, individual advice too.
Dubbo Kangaroos second-rower Shaun McHugh said the entire group soaked up the experience, one that he thinks will prove invaluable individually and holistically. Why wouldn’t they soak it up, considering that star-studded group of Kiwis boast more than 150 international appearances combined.
“It was an unbelievable experience to be able to talk to that calibre of player. It was a great insight, not just into rugby but also into their way of life off the field too,” McHugh, who presented the Kiwi group with Blue Bulls kit afterwards as a thank you, said.
“I don't think many people back in Australia would've have the chance to be in that environment, with three All Blacks and a Black Fern basically telling us what rugby was all about.
“It was pretty impressive, a privilege really."
As you’d expect McHugh was particularly keen to hear what Whitelock, as decorated an All Black as you’ll find, had to say considering they're both predominantly locks.
“He was great to talk to, just a really nice guy,” McHugh said of the 107-Test, World Cup and Super Rugby-winning second-rower.
“I picked his brain a little bit (about second-row play) but I was more interested in talking about rugby in general, who his toughest opponent has been and that sort of thing. Funnily enough he answered those questions but he more wanted to know about us, where we're from, how far we travel to play and that sort of thing.
“He wanted to know about farming too, he's a bit of farmer. They all engaged, and they were really interested in what we were doing which blew me away a little bit.”
Amanda Ferguson, who's making a return to the playing field for Central West on the tour, also lauded the experience, because it gave her troops a rare insight into life as a professional, which they still can’t get from Wallaroos players.
Love is one of 29 centrally-contracted players for the 2019 season after New Zealand Rugby Union moved to professionalise their women’s program midway through last year.
"It was great to have them with us, it's nice to see that even though they've reached the top level here they're still looking to improve and be the best they can be on and off the field," she said.
"With Phillipa being a loosehead prop our forwards loved hearing from her but we're lucky in that we've got a very young side, and those younger players were hanging on her every word so I hope they run with it.
"Women's rugby in Australia is coming along in leaps and bounds and I hope it continues moving in the direction New Zealand has. Obviously last week the Wallaroos' extended program was announced, and they're all steps in the right direction."
Wednesday morning’s breakfast was just one unique experience the group was handed leading into the opening games of the week-long tour, the day before they were given a behind-the-scenes look at Crusaders HQ.
The most decorated franchise in Super Rugby history with nine titles, Central West’s players learned of the Crusaders’ culture and secrets to success and also watched on as the Canterbury side prepared for their clash with the Chiefs on Saturday night - the tourists will be on hand for that too.
That came after a number of training sessions earlier in the week and a trip to Christchurch's Adrenalin Forest, which served as an off-field, team-building, bonding exercise.
"It's all been great so far but seeing how the Crusaders operate was a great insight," Forbes' new player-coach Jarrod Hall, among a handful lucky enough to meet All Blacks skipper Kieran Read during the visit, said.
"You know they're doing similar drills and training to what we do, but the intensity, attitude and more than anything the execution is just at a ridiculous level. We watched them train for two hours and I think there was maybe two or three dropped balls, as an example.
"We all try and build good cultures and any side that's won the Blowes Clothing Cup recently will tell you success comes from that, so it's really interesting to see inside the Crusaders' camp on and off the field, because there's no better franchise to learn from.
"A lot of their players and coaches came and engaged with us too, it was great to be able to speak to guys like Keiran Read and Israel Dagg, and their coach Scott Robertson."
Central West split their men's group into two sides to face Canterbury University's first and second XVs on Wednesday night, with the women facing their counterparts as well.
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