It's been a tumultuous few weeks for Italy's Northland-born lock Dean Budd.
In the space of 19 days, 33-year-old Budd captained Italy's national side in one of two triumphant wins at the Rugby World Cup in Japan over Namibia and Canada, swallowed a heart-breaking loss to South Africa, and prepared for a do-or-die match against the world champion All Blacks, only for it to be cancelled because of a typhoon.
The emotional rollercoaster has left Budd, who represented Northland in 2010, questioning his future in rugby as he is only days away from starting another season with Italian club Benetton Rugby, who he had been with for eight seasons.
While Italy's chances at the World Cup were far-fetched, requiring a bonus-point win against the two-time defending champions to progress to the knockout stages, there was plenty of belief inside the Azures unit which was cruelly taken away by Mother Nature.
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Speaking with the Northern Advocate on Thursday from Japan, Budd described the moment he and his team knew their World Cup campaign was over.
"We were on the training field and literally in a huddle post training, the coach has come in and just dropped a bombshell," Budd said.
"There were tears flowing from quite a few of the boys and just an eerie sense of emptiness really.
"I had my cousin and his family at the training ground watching and I didn't want to say it to them because I didn't want to believe that it was true, I just hoped that I'd heard wrong."
The abrupt cancellation had simply re-opened fresh wounds as it was only a week prior when Italy lost a vital game to South Africa, going down heavily, 49-3.
Budd, who had been a part of the national team for about two and a half years, said the contest with South Africa had been heavily targeted in a group which also included the All Blacks and to lose in such a fashion was nearly beyond description.
"[The South Africa game] had been all we'd talked and to go out there and not perform as well as we wanted ... we were completely demoralised," he said.
"It was proper heartbreaking. I don't know about the darkest days, but it was probably one of the most empty feelings I've ever had after a game of rugby."
While he admitted it took a few days and some tough conversations, Budd said the team had picked themselves up ahead of a do-or-die match against the world champions.
But as fate would have it, the Italian team went from having one last hurrah at the World Cup and still entertaining a possible quarter-final berth, to seeing their World Cup campaign end and what could be the last time the game will see a number of Italy's experienced players.
"For it to be taken away again, to have this two weeks in a row when everything you want doesn't come true, it's been a pretty rough finish to it all," Budd said.
Only hours after hearing the news his World Cup journey was over, Budd was surprisingly optimistic about his immediate future. Having planned to give away national rugby after the World Cup, the ex-Northlander was determined to not have this be his swansong.
"I was tossing and turning where my future was going, [but] I sure as hell want to get the jersey on again and get out there and finish it on a high, so we'll use it as a bit of inspiration."
Wherever he had been or would go in the world, Budd said he would always consider Northland home. Interestingly, Budd didn't play any rugby in Northland before he left to Palmerston North at eight years old to complete his schooling at Palmerston North Boys' High School.
In central North Island, Budd turned to rugby which made sense considering his father had played about 70 games for Northland. Progressing through high school and academy rugby, Budd came across current All Blacks Sam Whitelock, Dane Coles and Aaron Smith before joining Angus Ta'avao when Budd moved to Auckland.
But it was in 2010 when Budd returned home and pulled on the Cambridge Blue under coaches Bryce Woodward and Blair Larsen and alongside Northland stalwarts such as David Holwell and Justin Collins. Budd said it was a dream come true to wear the Taniwha jersey as his father did.
"I always wanted to follow those footsteps and wear the Cambridge Blue so that was a massive moment for us and the family."
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After missing out on Super Rugby with the Blues the following year, Budd had a brief stint in Japan before settling in Italy where he currently lived, apart from a trip back home about once a year to his mother's house in Teal Bay.
While he wasn't sure what he would do post rugby, Budd was certain he had a few years left in him. When pressed on a potential return in the Northland jersey, Budd said it could be on the cards.
"I wouldn't discount it, I'd love a last hurrah with the Taniwha to be really honest," he said with a laugh.
"I remember saying to the chairman at the time , I said, 'if I come back to New Zealand, I'll be coming back to the Taniwha', but we'll have to wait and see on that one.
"It would be special for me, absolutely. Northland is home for me and wearing the Taniwha jersey were some of the more special moments of my career so it'd be cool to give back if I could."