Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Rugby: Italian job lured AB wing to greener pastures

If the All Blacks need tips ahead of next weekend's test against Italy, they could tap into the knowledge of the New Zealander with some of the most extensive experience of rugby in that country - World Cup-winning winger Craig Green.

He played eight seasons in Italy after leaving New Zealand in 1987 aged 26. He has since spent the majority of his life there after marrying and establishing a family.

Green also fell in love with the Italian lifestyle after playing out his career with leading club Benetton Treviso, where he created a devastating three-quarter combination with fellow All Black John Kirwan.

As the club's prefix suggests, they were sponsored - and well looked after - by the famed Italian clothing retailer in the pre-professional era.

"We had weekends where 10 of us would turn up at the local airport, take a private jet to Paris for breakfast, wander round the city preparing for lunch, watch a [then] Five Nations game, have a couple of beers and be home by 11pm," Green says.

He also loved the sevens circuit in Europe during that period.

"We'd go to London for tournaments, be picked up by a Rolls-Royce at the airport and polish off a bottle of champagne on the way into town. Another time, we drove around the Swiss Alps in an Aston Martin as a part of a team sponsored by a group of stockbrokers based in Dubai. They paid for everything, expected us to have a good time but also expected us to win."

Green and Kirwan used to rent an apartment and owned a Yamaha 650 motorbike which Green says was handy for "air-conditioning" in the Italian summer heat and "quick getaways".

The scene made a contrast to Green the builder standing roadside with his lunchbox the Monday after the 1987 World Cup win, waiting to be given a lift to a Christchurch building site.

He says that year, he earned $6000 as a contractor and lived with flatmates on a tight budget where a sheep was fattened up eating their back lawn. Rugby in the amateur era was not designed to be a career.

When Green discussed this point with a selector to see if he could get out of a trial match to earn some money, he was told, as he subtly puts it, "with a couple of adjectives added in" that it might be time to look elsewhere.

Green decided to chance his arm overseas.

The economic downturn has meant a tweak in lifestyle since Green's return to Italy three years ago. He worked in the Italian rugby development programme and coached their under-20s when the country hosted the World Cup last year but, by his own admission, "things didn't quite work out".

With few coaching opportunities available, he took the Udine job in the second division which he hopes will be a link back to the top flight.

When the Herald on Sunday spoke to Green, he had sauntered back from a pizza dinner with his family "just down the road". He says a big part of their lifestyle involves enjoying dinners at local restaurants at vastly cheaper prices to New Zealand.

Green hasn't changed much in appearance from those halcyon days of 1987 when, as a wiry left winger, he appeared in support to finish tries outside the likes of Joe Stanley, Michael Jones and John Gallagher.

He sports the same bristling moustache with the addition of a chic stud in his left ear. Green says his daughters love watching old All Blacks footage and laugh whenever they see what he describes as the "disco haka".

"The haka has a real cult following here," he says. "I'm going to do a presentation at a school next week and the guy organising it said: 'Make sure you bring a video of players doing it'."

Green's been impressed with the All Blacks since their return to world champion status because rather than getting caught in a lull they've churned out new talent and sustained their performances. He says it's the style of rugby his own charges want to emulate but he warns New Zealand can't afford to get caught in a forward battle next weekend in Rome.

"Last time in front of 80,000 at the San Siro [in Milan], the All Blacks [who won 20-6] got a bit touched up in the scrum. The Italians fired up and also dominated territory and possession. For any Italian team, playing the All Blacks is still the game of a lifetime."

- Herald on Sunday

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