The lungs may have been missing, but the head-down, no-look bullet passes were still there, as were the uncanny rugby instincts.
A full 17 years after beginning a glittering top-level sporting career, Jason Spice turned out last week for Mount Maunganui in the Baywide club rugby competition and is due to play again tomorrow against Te Puke.
But forget this being the fast-dipping twilight of his career - it could be a new start.
The 36-year-old former Blues and Hurricanes halfback - who famously sat on the bench for the All Blacks against Argentina in 2001 - arrived in the Bay in January after six years in Britain.
He's started a teaching diploma at Bay of Plenty Polytechnic, but hasn't dismissed the idea of turning out for the Steamers in this year's ITM Cup.
"I came back thinking 'that's it, let's just get fat and drink some beer and not have anyone tell me when to train,' but I haven't quite lost those competitive urges," the amiable No 9 laughed. "I definitely need more club games but I'd love to have a crack if needed."
Spice has been included in the BOP Wasps squad playing the Saracens (Hawke's Bay) in Rotorua on May 25 and adds an intriguing twist to the Steamers' halfback jigsaw. With incumbent Taniela Moa doubtful - he could yet decide to turn out for Tonga at the World Cup - and a compressed ITM Cup schedule, Steamers coach Sean Horan is looking for experience to bolster the raw talent in the union.
"We've got some good halfbacks coming through like Josh Hall, Chris Miller and Lewis Hancock who probably need a bit more experience," Horan said.
"We've got Taniela, who is a super player, but we don't know how long we're going to have him for ... so just having Spicey around is great."
Spice's experience is vast. The Matamata College schoolboy star played the first of his 19 games for Waikato in 1995, though he'd already had two seasons as a first-class cricketer with Northern Districts. It was only the arrival of a bespectacled teenage freak that stymied his career as a highly promising left-arm off-spinner and right-hand batsman.
"My last game of cricket was a one-dayer against Wellington and Dan Vettori made his debut," Spice said. "I was supposed to be 12th man ... but they re-selected the team and I dropped back down to the Bs to make way for Dan, and that was when I decided to really concentrate on my rugby."
He went on to play six games for the Blues, 61 for Wellington and 66 for the Hurricanes before an equally exhausting stint in Europe. After three seasons and 77 games for Ospreys, he played 48 games for Cardiff and a staggering 31 games in one season with Bristol before the club folded early last year. He then picked up short-term contracts with Leicester, Launceston and Newcastle before bringing his wife and two kids home.
"I did all coaching papers overseas and that could've been a path I'd gone down, but to do that I really needed to stay over in Europe and we thought it was time to come home. I'm keen to give the teaching thing a go and from there it was a matter of deciding where to do it."
For a bloke who can can count the serious injuries he's had on one hand - or more specifically a broken right arm - there was irony in the fact that his Mount debut was delayed for a month because of a back injury.
"The worst thing about my back was that it wasn't even rugby-related," Spice said. "My young fulla was sick and I was sleeping in the bathroom with him and the hard tiles weren't too flash on my back!"