The analogy of the punch-drunk boxer too befuddled to quit the fight game could never fit Andrew Mehrtens like a glove - the 37-year-old still prefers to keep physical contact to a minimum in the lower echelons of French provincial rugby.

He might be closing in on mid-life crisis territory but his chirpiness and desire for the game which made him one of the most popular All Blacks of his generation is undiminished.

These days Mehrtens is running around, without the zip of his youth, in the south of France with Beziers, a club whose decline mirrors that of their first five-eighth.

A powerhouse of the domestic scene through the 1970s and 80s, Beziers were relegated to Pro D2 after the 2004-05 season; Mehrtens 70-test career ended in 2004, prompting him to venture overseas to London, Toulon, Paris and now a small town in Languedoc.

Beziers now languish in Federale 1 - a polite way of saying third division - so the playing and refereeing standards are not, in Mehrtens' words "wonderful".

However, the lifestyle for his wife and two children, and his mentoring role for young French players compensates for the cheap shots and cheating he encounters on a weekly basis.

"I still enjoy playing," he said, while watching the All Blacks complete their preparations for Sunday's (NZT) test against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium.

"When you play rugby and you've been in the All Blacks people say you don't want to go down the slope or whatever (to lower grades).

"I don't really see it like that. I'm enjoying playing rugby, I'm enjoying the camaraderie of being in a team."

Admittedly the training, he could do without.

"It's the drag, as it is from the age of 24 up but the games are very enjoyable.

"Every year the guys seem younger and it sort of drags you along a wee bit with their energy."

There are only a couple of Kiwis on the books at Beziers, a contrast from his stints at Toulon and Racing Metro where English was widely spoken.

So he finally feels he is enjoying an authentic Gallic rugby experience even if the language barrier remains.

Mehrtens reckoned he was good for another season but like Brad Thorn, an old teammate he caught up with today, he is starting to visualise life after football.

There was a possibility of moving into a coaching or managerial role at Beziers, a return home to Canterbury and the finance industry also appeals.

"At the moment I don't even know if I would have what it takes to coach," he said.

"It's not something I've really chased but it's a role you end up falling into when you're an older player."

However, he was fairly adamant he wouldn't be joining the player-coaching pathway well trodden by his former Canterbury and Crusaders teammates Todd Blackadder, Mark Hammett, Daryl Gibson, Tabai Matson and Dave Hewett.

"I've never really thought I'd want to coach in New Zealand unless it was with younger age groups," he said.

"I'd still like to be involved in rugby but I don't want to necessarily chase it all my life."

Meanwhile, Mehrtens is still playing to the strengths that saw him serve the All Blacks with distinction between 1995 and 2004.

"I'm not getting too involved in the rucks and mauls," he smiled, adding French rugby probably wasn't as thuggish as those days when Beziers were a force to be reckoned with.

"There's a wee bit of shit going on, mostly cheap shots and cheating. I don't think they're particularly tough or violent like they were in the past.

"I don't get involved, I leave that to the rest of them."

- NZPA