30 seems to be the new 25 as ageing warhorses battle on.
Ever expert at reaching new levels of excellence, the All Blacks have broken an intriguing mental barrier in 2012 - they no longer view turning 30 as an automatic trigger for a career to begin its descent.
It's a significant shift in thinking and one inspired by a handful of players, most notably Brad Thorn, Keven Mealamu, Richie McCaw and Andrew Hore, who have all shown that age is not the barrier to world-class performance it used to be.
Nearly a third of the current All Black squad have already turned 30 and while the public perception might be of an ageing side that will begin breaking up in the next 12 months, there is no sense within the camp of the clock ticking.
Look at Thorn, a World Cup winner at 36, recruited by the Highlanders and trumpeted as a star signing at almost 38. Hore, ditched by the Hurricanes last year, has bounced back, playing better than at any time in his career at 34 years old. Mealamu, six months Hore's junior, continues to deliver and McCaw, 31, has taken his game to another level this year.
Some of the veterans will make it to the next World Cup, others won't, but all of them believe they are a genuine chance. Adam Thomson, who will turn 31 early next year, is undecided about his immediate future.
The one thing he is clear about, though, is that he is not putting a time limit on how long he might have left at the top end.
"Not any more, I used to when I was younger," he says. "I thought then that when you turned 30 time was running out and you had to make the most of things. There are guys who are bucking that trend all over the place - guys like Brad Thorn, even Horey [Hore] and Kevy [Mealamu]. I see Kevy and the look in his eyes tells me he's like an excited teenager again. He loves being here and that guy's going to keep going until his wheels fall off. Those guys have sort of given me new hope I guess and saying that if I want to be here, there is no reason why I can't be."
There are others who feel the same way, which is why fellow 30-somethings Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Ali Williams and Tony Woodcock all extended their contracts before coming on tour. This group are all willing to keep edging towards 2015 and possibly beyond.
For this group of All Blacks, 30 is the new 25.By Gregor Paul Email Gregor