By PAUL YANDALL
"I miss him because he is caring," says All Black Pita Alatini's little sister Ma'ata.
"Oh yeah, he's kind, too."
The 10-year-old from East Tamaki cannot remember how many times she has said goodbye to her brother leaving on another rugby tour, but at least now she does more laughing than crying.
"I used to always be sad. Now I stay up to watch [his games] and cheer."
Ma'ata was one of a small band of family and friends who saw the All Blacks off at Auckland Airport last night.
The 30-player squad flew out to Los Angeles for London and Dublin, to begin the first leg of the tour of Ireland, Scotland and Argentina.
As relatives and friends waved goodbye, coach John Mitchell's team boarded with little fuss or fanfare. But saying goodbye was still difficult, even for an All Black.
"The hardest thing for any player is missing family," said 25-year-old Alatini, who was farewelled by a large contingent of his extended Tongan family.
"I've been away a fair bit now. It's part of the job and I guess they pay me well for it, but that doesn't make it any easier for me."
And for dedicated fans such as Ma'ata there will be only one measure of success.
Asked if she wanted her brother to come home safely, she said: "Awww, actually, I just want him to win."