Did you have that mentality naturally or did you have to learn it?
I had to learn it. I had the physical attributes: even as a young, skinny schoolkid in New Zealand, playing basketball and rugby, I was quite fast and strong. That came naturally, but I had to learn how to be mentally stronger to face adversity. I always knew I could match up with anyone physically, but the tough times come outside of matches – when you’re injured, or just not selected, and you start questioning yourself. Why am I doing all this running (I’m not a big runner!) when I’m not even playing? It’s those quiet times when doubt can creep in.
Did someone show you how to deal with the doubt?
Keven Mealamu was my mentor. He was a slightly older player for the All Blacks and he was like a godfather to me. He had come from a similar upbringing and I think he had been through similar situations. He took a few of us younger players under his wing, showed us how to achieve things. He’s a great reader of people and body language, so he always knew when to look out for you.
What did he teach you?
To focus on the process, not the destination. If I want to get back in the starting team, it’s no use me muttering on the sidelines about how I think I should be in the team. Instead, focus on what you need to do, day in day out, to give yourself the best chance of getting back in that team. And do it.
Tell us about a great player you played against…
I’ve played against so many legends. To pick someone from a similar position to me, I’d say Schalk Burger of South Africa. He was similar to Richie – just relentless. When you saw his name of the team sheet, you never had an easy day. Skilful, strong, physical, he’d just go at you. But what really made him stand out was that, as soon as the game was over, you’d shake his hand and he’s just the most calm, kind-hearted, softly spoken guy. I have the fondest memories of cracking a beer with him in the changing rooms and chatting about how you’ve just been smashing into each other. I don’t know how he could just flip a switch like that. He was so tough to play against, but we’ve also built a friendship over the years.
Are you going to miss that kind of camaraderie?
Yeah. I’ll miss those butterflies you get before a match too, and the sound of the crowd as you prepare for a big game, but I definitely won’t be missing the morning after a match.
Is that the aches and pains?
They hurt more as you get older and, as a rugby player, there tend to be more of them too. I’ve taken a lot of anti-inflammatories and even tramadol over the years. Recently, though, I’ve switched to CBD and it’s been a game-changer.
How did you handle those butterflies?
Visualisation, mainly. When I was with the All Blacks, I worked with Gilbert Enoka, one of our sports psych masters as we called them. He showed me how to visualise myself playing a big match beforehand, so that it feels more familiar when you actually get there. This is now my kind of meditation or yoga. It still helps me relax a lot if I’ve got to do something I don’t like – like public speaking. I’ll picture the crowd of 500 or 1,000 people beforehand, picture myself talking about what I’m going to talk about, and picture how they react. It doesn’t take all the pressure off, but it helps.