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I'll never forget the first points I scored in the All Blacks jersey. Hamilton, 21 June 2003. Doug Howlett has scored the first try to put us two points up against Wales. I'm standing at the back of my run-up for the conversion and I've never been so nervous in my life. I'd visualised this moment since I was a child, kicking goals to win World Cups in my backyard — the All Blacks down by one point, the final whistle's gone and I'm kicking from the sideline to win the game. I'd been training for this since I could walk, when my father used to get my leg and swing it like I was kicking a ball. But to actually do it, on the international stage, was completely different. It was like the whole country's emotions were riding on that one kick. And it's simple. You either get it or you don't. The fans, the country, they are either happy, or they aren't.
I place the ball on the tee. Go through my routine — five steps back, three across. Look up to the post and visualise the ball going through. Stare at the sweet spot of the ball. Tell myself to relax. Step forward, head down, follow through. I look up as the ball sails through the posts and feel the biggest relief. I went on to score 20 points that game, all off the back of that ball sailing through the posts on my first kick. That game changed everything. After that I embraced pressure. I wanted more moments like that. I wanted to take the kick that wins the game.
When I look through these pages, I also see a never-ending journey: the pursuit of kicking the perfect ball. A pursuit that started back in Southbridge, Canterbury, where my dad built me posts in the backyard for my eighth birthday. As soon as I could kick the ball over the posts, I'd go back another five metres until eventually I was kicking the length of the lawn, over a fence, around a tree, searching for that perfect kick.
For me, these photos show a continuation from those first kicks in the backyard at home. A pursuit of perfection I'm still trying to achieve, even after retiring, down at my local rugby field.
I'm also reminded of what the camera didn't capture. The hard work and resilience it took off the field to keep coming back, season after season, to try to be the best player on it. Two kicks that still stick with me didn't occur on the international stage, but will also stay with me forever. The first: tearing my groin while kicking in training during the 2011 World Cup, a day before what was meant to be my first time captaining the All Blacks. An injury that ended my World Cup and threatened to end my career. The second: my first kick after surgery, four months later. I was at the back of my run-up and for the first time ever I didn't want to kick. I talked myself through it, walked in, kicked, and the ball literally rolled about 20 metres across the ground. I had to adapt. Keep evolving. Find a way. Hopefully, this book gives a sense of that journey, too — rebuilding myself to try to be the best again.
Just four years later, I scored my final points as an All Black with my final kick in international rugby, and probably my favourite. Beauden Barrett had just scored a try. I had a conversion right in front of the posts in the final minute of the game. Placing the tee, I remembered how my father always taught me to kick using both feet. It's something I'd always practised but never achieved in a game. I realised this was the moment to do it, as a bit of a tribute to him. I quickly took the kick off my right foot and thankfully it sailed through the posts. My final sign-off kicking in international rugby. 1598.
Breaking records was never why I played — to me it was all about the team. I know this milestone won't last. But hopefully, looking through these images that show my journey to 1598, someone out there may be inspired to pursue their own impossible dream.