Injured All Black's year-long comeback struggle keeps paying off.
In Cory Jane's comeback match in November after eight months out with injury - for the All Blacks against France in Paris, no less - he almost scored a stunning try after two and a half minutes.
Now his fitness is such that he would back himself to score it. He wasn't operating at 100 per cent then due to his lay-off following ACL knee surgery. Now he believes he is a different player. He didn't play at all for the Hurricanes last season; this year their opponents should consider themselves put on notice.
Receiving the ball from Liam Messam on one of the All Blacks' first attacking forays at the Stade de France, and with scrambling fullback Maxime Medard's arrival imminent, Jane's only option was to go for the right corner and hope for the best. In the end both of his feet were in the air over the line, his last touch letting him down slightly when he lost contact with the ball - a view agreed on by the TMO.
"If I had scored that try I would have got up and walked off the field, job done," he joked last week. "That gave me a bit of confidence - 'oh yeah, that wasn't a bad start, at least I didn't drop the ball'."
Jane's achievement in getting himself on the end-of-year tour was all the greater because of a hamstring strain before what would have been his comeback for the All Blacks in the Bledisloe Cup match in Dunedin in October.
The discipline which Jane showed last year has continued over the off season. With Charles Piutau taking every chance for the All Blacks in Jane's absence, the 31-year-old Hurricanes' player knows he has to keep improving.
"I've had a good pre-season," he said. "I've done everything I've needed to. Last year when I came into the All Blacks I was a little bit under-done but I managed to look not too bad. This year I don't want to look not too bad, I want to be an elite player again and make things happen on the field.
"I've never been the fastest guy in world rugby, but I'm still quick. I've still got my agility. I'm working hard to get it back up there. It wasn't that high for the All Blacks last year; the same with my repetitive speed.
"I worked bloody hard for eight months trying to get to that end-of-year tour. I did a couple of things in that French game where I thought, 'oh yeah, I've still [got] it', but if I was to gauge where I am now to when I was then - way off."
A training regime which saw him swear off his beloved soft drinks last year paid off, and the standards enforced then have remained.
"I'm always in the gym doing the extras that I need to. I know my physios say an ACL injury can take 18-odd months before it's fully back so I've got to keep on it."
Test debut: 2008 v Australia, Hong Kong
Test caps: 45
Test starts: 38
Test points: 80 (16 tries)
Test record: Played in 38 wins, 6 losses, 1 draw
How they're shaping up
Coach: Frans Ludeke
Captain: Pierre Spies
Home Ground: Loftus Versfeld
2013 finish: Semifinalists
Titles won: Three
Welcomed: Victor Matfield, Piet van Zyl, Jacques Engelbrecht
Farewelled: Morne Steyn, Wynand Olivier, Zane Kirchner, Juandre Kruger, Dewald Potgieter, Jacques Potgieter, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Wilhelm Steenkamp, Francois Venter.
The Bulls will be satisfied with reaching the playoffs in 2014, having recruited primarily from their Currie Cup side. Goal-kicking machine Morne Steyn's departure leaves a rather large hole in the Bulls' inventory.
Steyn joins the likes of Zane Kirchner, Wynand Olivier and Chiliboy Ralepelle as players who have left in their droves for the greener pastures of European rugby.
Former captain Victor Matfield's return from retirement reeks of desperation but his place as one of the great Springbok loose forwards should help to influence a young, green side.
Coach: Richard Graham
Captain: James Horwill
Home Ground: Suncorp Stadium
2013 finish: Qualifying finalists
Titles won: 1
Welcomed: Lachie Turner
Farewelled: Digby Ioane, Jono Lance, Luke Morahan, Radike Samo
The Reds will be sweating on Quade Cooper, who was carried off in a neck brace in their 15-18 loss to the Rebels in their final pre-season clash at Ballymore. Given his influential link with halfback Will Genia and the combination with newly departed wing Digby Ioane, the Reds will be looking for help from above to get the Tokoroa-born Cooper ready for their season-opener against the Waratahs in Sydney. The team need only look at 2013 for inspiration when, despite scoring the third-least amount of points in the regular season (321), they qualified for the playoffs.
- Matiu Workman