So what have you been doing in the lead up to pre-season training?
I recovered after the week of the Mitre 10 Cup final physically, mentally and I detoxed as well (laughs), it was a good celebration. But it was a great way to finish a number of years of Canterbury rugby. Then in the second week I went over to the Roosters in the NRL to do a bit of professional development and leadership, and work around defence so I could up-skill myself coming into the season. New Zealand Rugby Union has a great relationship with clubs around Australasia, and Sydney had some good surf. It was a great way to transition from Mitre 10 Cup to Super Rugby and start our planning phase.
What do you think will be the toughest part of your new role at the Crusaders next season?
Probably knowing myself, I’ll bring a lot of energy and creative new ideas. So I’ve got to make sure I get the balance right and bring what I need, and keep it to the critical few things that will make the difference.
The Crusaders have a proud and successful history, does that add any pressure?
Expectations are great, I love it. I had it with Canterbury that we’d go and be successful, and with that comes high standards and brings a bit of pressure you can use to create an edge. If there were no expectations I just wouldn’t feel the same.
What are your goals for the season?
My philosophy is to make people better on and off the field. I just want the team to perform and make sure when we’re under pressure in these critical moments we win those. It’s something we haven’t nailed, and we’ve had opportunities but haven’t taken them. That excites me.
And you played for the Crusaders and Canterbury back in the day, did you ever see yourself coaching them?
Yes. Back in 1996 and ‘97 I would walk in with a playbook and try and create new plays and see new ways of doing things. It’s the way it is now, it’s just a natural progression. It’s been a pathway; it’s taken a considerable amount of time to get here from retiring nine years ago. I’ve done a lot of hours.
Is this a stepping stone to coach the All Blacks?
The All Blacks is a totally different level and experience is critical. A lot of the coaches have been overseas and had a lot of different experiences with different cultures and competitions. With the All Blacks you play international teams and you need to understand that environment. Coaching overseas gives you a chance to experience that. I’m in no rush, I’d love to do that but I could see myself coaching afar first.
Being a former Crusader, does it make you a bit more patriotic while coaching?
Of course – I shed a lot of blood, cartilage and meniscus with the Crusaders. It was successful, I loved it and it made me a better person. Some of my best mates and memories were with that team, it sounds pretty cliche, but it’s a dream.
And you come from up north don’t you?
I’m from the Mount. It’s a bottle top question – who was the first person to be drafted for a Super Team. I made New Zealand Colts, and Vance Stewart picked me out of New Zealand Colts and I was drafted and came to Canterbury.
So are you a Cantabrian now?
People ask me that all the time. I had a great up-bringing and my home is the Mount in regards to childhood friends and things. But I made my adult connections down here. My wife’s from down here and I had my children here. But I’m really fortunate to have red and black in my veins.
And you spent a fair bit of time coaching NZ under-20s. Is part of that role to groom up-and-coming players?
The objection is to develop players, on and off the field, because they’re young men and they’ve got to make some big decisions. The other was win. If you’re in the black jersey going to a tournament, you’re playing for silverware. I managed to do it one of the two times. For me, my biggest learning was our loss to Ireland – which some other teams have had too recently – but it’s a different style and the preparation is different for different teams, weather, and the mindset. I’m a better coach because I understand that.
Over the years, who is a young player that you’ve watched and thought they had a big future?
The most gifted player I’ve ever seen is Jordie Barrett. He’s going to the Hurricanes which is the second toughest thing for me outside the Ireland loss. He’s an extreme talent, and a great kid with great work ethic.
Better than his brother Beauden?
I don’t like to compare them. They’ve got similar skill-sets. For us it’s a wait and see. I think what sets Jordie apart is his mind-set – he’s the ultimate professional and has an incredible knack of performing under pressure. That sets the greats apart.
When you were a rookie, who was a senior player that you looked up to?
I made a lot of really good mates and everyone brought a lot of different things. That group of players that we had is unlike any group that’s been together for a long time. If you look at the coaches, we had Robbie Deans, Steve Hansen, Wayne Smith and they also had success post-Crusaders. I heard a great quote – truly inspiring coaches, or the great coaches, coach a player to become great coaches, and their players become coaches. It’s a generational thing. And from that group we had myself, Leon MacDonald, Tabai Matson, Todd Blackadder, Dave Hewett, Mark Hammett, Daryl Gibson and Aaron Mauger. I think the whole environment helped shape us. It didn’t just teach us how to play, but it taught us the game, and that’s what we’re doing now.
It was that era where the Crusaders were on the Meadow Fresh milk cartons – did you make it onto one of those?
No, I’ve broken my nose too many times (laughs).
You went and played in France and Japan following your time with the AB’s, what did you learn from your stints there?
The first year in France I struggled. I missed the structure of the Crusaders and I kept asking why do the French do it this way? But once I figured that out I ended up really loving and enjoying it. I learned French and the French way. I learned a lot of what I do now as a coach. It was the same in Japan, I learned a lot of their traditions. It made me appreciate what we’ve got here in New Zealand, and New Zealand rugby now. There’s a lot of benefits of going away and coming back. Maybe I’ll coach over there one day.
How’s your Japanese?
My wife’s pretty handy at it, but I can do the basics.
And the most important question, where did you learn to dance?
My mum’s got a bit of rhythm. I never expected to be dancing, it came from my playing days when the hoo hay razor ray song was pulled out. I was put on the spot and got called out and had to front up. If we win I’m more than happy to dance.
Where does the nickname Razor come from?
It’s a bit of self-promotion, probably a bit like the dancing. We used to give ourselves a couple of nicknames. We’d say I used to cut people in half and my shoulders were razor blades. I created a bit of an alias as Razor Ray and it’s taken its own little story-lines. So I named myself (laughs).
And you settled in Sumner when you came down, why did you choose to live there by the beach?
I’m a surfer, I love the sea and I enjoy the drive to Sumner. It’s a safe environment and it makes me happy. I’m involved with the great community and it reminds me of the Mount. The kids enjoy it too.
Speaking of family, how did you meet your wife?
I met my wife, Jane, at Lincoln. I’ve said this before, but my wife got a double degree – hers and mine. I met her when I first arrived in town and she’s been through all the highs and lows with me. I had 15 operations as a player and she nursed me back to the field. We’ve been through a lot.
What does she do?
She works at the local school and does extra-curricular sport for the kids and runs sporting competitions and that sort of thing. She’s the sports coordinator.
Is she a bit of a rugby widow?
I was away over 100 days this year with the NZ under-20s. But we understand it and she makes it work. We’ve got family support at Sumner. I’m lucky to have my role but we make sure we get away as a family.
Sumner was hit quite hard in the earthquakes, did you have any issues with insurance or damage to your home?
Yeah we had a red zone section up on the hill. We had five years in court with the Government, but we got a great result. We can look back and the right thing was done and we’ve moved on with that. We’ve learned patience and a lot about the law.
What was the most rewarding moment of your rugby career so far?
My first test for the All Blacks. We played Australia in Christchurch and my family came down. I fulfilled a huge goal for myself.
Did you win that test?
We better move on then, what was your most embarrassing moment?
When I played for Canterbury I was a reserve and came on, and I unzipped my tracksuit and ran on the field and I wasn’t wearing my playing jersey, I still had my warm up t-shirt on. I was in the huddle before I realised – everyone was pointing at me as I ran on and I kept running. I had to run back and swap it at the next break.
Some coaches lose their fitness after they finish playing, that doesn’t seem the case for you?
I do a bit of stand-up paddle boarding. It’s great for me and for my strength in my core and legs. I get to the gym and I swim a lot. I have to do it most days otherwise I get a bit edgy.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I spent a lot of time with the kids, and going to their sport and enjoying what they’re doing as a family so I connect with them. In the afternoon or the evenings we are either playing tennis, passing a ball, or playing touch. I’ve got three boys, aged 12, 10 and eight. They play rugby, touch, tennis and they surf. They’ve got a really good balance.
You’re well-qualified to give them some tips.
I just try to be a dad not a coach. I do coach one of their teams, and I give them tips and help out, but away from everyone’s eyes so there’s no pressure on them.
Now you’re in Super Rugby there will be a camera in the coach’s box – what can we expect to see from you?
Everything. I get a bit emotional, I’m glad there’s been no cameras in the box at ITM level. But I’m getting better at dealing with things I can’t control.