A former England great says New Zealand's tough club scene is what enables it to keep producing world-class players.
Former England No 8 Dean Ryan says his club rugby stint in the Bay of Plenty gave him a window to New Zealand's dominance on the world stage.
"After two broken arms in two seasons with Wasps, I was desperate for rugby and my club coach, Mark Taylor, a former All Black, had pointed the way to Ngongotaha rugby club in Rotorua,'' Ryan wrote in The Guardian. "New Zealand rugby changed me and that's the point.
"It was pretty stiff competition and more to the point it was pretty lively.''
But his initial reaction to the stringent nature of New Zealand's club rugby scene left him a little taken aback.
"From school to club to All Blacks is a natural progression,'' Ryan said of New Zealand's rigid rugby development pathway.
After slogging out a season for Ngongotaha, Ryan became a different man to the one who first decided upon a leisurely season abroad playing club rugby.
"After three or four weeks I was prepared to call it a day. Six months of finishing each weekend black and blue was not what I wanted,'' Ryan said.
Despite his shaky introduction, Ryan's perseverance proved prudent as he soon found himself playing provincial rugby for Bay of Plenty.
"Bay of Plenty heard about the Brit with Ngongotaha, one of about 36 quality clubs in the region and a season with the NPC followed,'' Ryan said.
This was the catalyst for Ryan's career as he soon learned his time abroad had moulded him into a world-class player. His playing days on New Zealand soil gave him a push toward a successful career in which he represented London Wasps, Newcastle Falcons, Bristol and, ultimately, England.
"The guy who left England for New Zealand might not have coped, whereas the 21-year-old who had played six months with Bay of Plenty knew what it was about,'' he said.
"[In England] it's tough at the top, but only at the top. Below the professional ranks attitudes and expectations are distinctly amateur. True, there are thousands upon thousands playing rugby, but it's not the rugby played the New Zealand way.
"When did we last see a [Brodie] Retallick or a Charles Piutau, a product of Pakuranga in Auckland, burst on to the scene and look so immediately comfortable in test conditions?
"True, we have the biggest rugby-playing population in the world, but the base of the pyramid which leads to test rugby feels a whole lot narrower than it did in Ngongotaha.''