George Bridge came to Christchurch with no rugby contract, and no position promised at an academy.
The story of his elevation to the All Blacks has the slightly sepia toned feel of long lost days when a kid from Putaruru called Wayne Smith, unable to get a start in the Waikato team, could drive south to Canterbury in a clunking old Valiant in 1979, and within a year become an All Black.
Bridge, whose parents, Crispin and Chick, run a hill country farm at Manutuke, 14km out of Gisborne, went to high school at Lindisfarne College in Hastings. His parents would often drive three hours each way to see him play for the school's First XV.
Another interested observer was Campbell Feather, a former Taranaki and Hurricanes loose forward, now a sheep and beef farmer in Hawke's Bay.
Feather wasn't involved with the school, but the teenaged Bridge looked to him to "have a big heart, and the ability to do amazing things on the field." So Feather rang an official at the Hawke's Bay union to ask if they were involving Bridge in their age grade rep teams or training groups. "No," came the reply, "we don't think he's got an X-factor."
Chatting with Feather at his rugby club, the 18-year-old Bridge told Feather he was heading to Otago to study sports science. Rugby wasn't the driving force for the move.
Feather, undeterred by the lack of interest in Hawke's Bay, called a friend from his playing days, All Black Nathan Mauger, in 2013 the Director of Rugby at the High School Old Boys club in Christchurch. Mauger still remembers the conversation. "He said, 'Mate, I've got this kid here, and I really see something in him.'"
Before long Bridge was on his way to Christchurch. "You could see George had a natural flair," says Mauger. "But the most impressive thing about him was that he was a good man who worked really hard." The following year Mauger, then coaching the Canterbury under-19 side, had Bridge in his rep squad as a fullback, and the progress from there has been as consistent as it has been spectacular.
Back in the Bay, Feather is delighted, but not surprised, by how well Bridge had handled the attention and success that are now part of his life.
"Even as a schoolkid he had a great personality. He'd do amazing things on the field, but was never carried away with himself. George was a farm boy who had a sense of humour, who loved his surfing as well as his rugby. He's a competitive guy, but he doesn't have grandiose expectations."
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Nathan Mauger echoes Feather's sentiments. "George was terrific to coach, because he took things on board quickly and expertly. But really, he's got where he is with his own hard work, and strength of character."
If Liam Squire is left out of the World Cup team on Wednesday, it will be basically at his own request.
Two months ago Squire talked with Steve Hansen before the first All Black squad of the year was named, saying, "Mate, I don't think I'm ready to play international football." Hansen recalls that "I said 'okay', and we had a bit of a chat about that which I won't repeat. At the end of it we agreed and I said 'Righto, that's a pretty courageous conversation, well done, you get back on the park and play some footy and we'll make a decision from there.'"
Squire is not the first player to opt out of the All Blacks. The most recent case involved Brad Thorn. New Zealand born but Australian raised, in 2001 Thorn agonised over his decision to turn down selection for an end of year All Black tour.
At the time he wasn't sure that he would actually be staying in Christchurch, where he had just played his first season of professional rugby, or return to Australia, and play league again for the Broncos. He was homesick. His family were in Brisbane. Strong personal religious beliefs meant his Brisbane girlfriend coming to live with him in Christchurch was not an option.
He wanted time at the end of the 2001 NPC season to clear his head, to decide whether his sporting quest in rugby would take precedence over his personal life. Not expecting to be selected after his first year in the game, he was stunned when he was named in the All Black team.
"Imagine my state of mind having to ring up and turn down the offer," he'd say in 2003. "There I was taking all these phone calls from relatives congratulating me and I am thinking I do not want to go through with this. In the space of 24 hours I faced more pressure than I had ever felt." After a tormented day he rang team manager Andrew Martin and withdrew.
At the time some thought he was playing a devious little game in which he wanted to leave his options open so he could make a big bucks return to the Broncos in the NRL. "Watch out next year," sneered one commentator, "when we'll see Thorn announce that his heart was always really in league."
One pretty fair judge of character, Thorn's captain in the Crusaders, Todd Blackadder, was furious about the public bagging of Thorn. As Blackadder would tell me, Thorn was being accused of behaving dishonourably because, in the saddest of twists, he was "just being bloody honest."
There was a happy ending. Thorn went back to Australia, married, returned to Christchurch, was selected for the All Blacks again, and would conclude a stellar career of 59 tests as a key man in the 2011 World Cup winning side.