In the New Zealand rugby environment where the All Blacks increasingly overshadow everything, it's refreshing to hear someone speak with such pride for the provincial game.

David Havili has played three tests for the All Blacks, five games in total, and this year won his third Super Rugby title with the Crusaders.

Captaining Tasman to the provincial crown, though, he rates alongside his greatest rugby achievements.

"For me it's definitely up there with being an All Black especially being home grown and schooled there," Havili says this week in London as he prepares to cap a memorable year by starting at fullback for the Barbarians against Fiji at Twickenham. "To see how much it meant to the community and how much they got behind us was awesome.

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"It was really emotional because we'd worked really hard for it during the year so it was a relief to get through the semifinal and then leave it all out there in the final."

Havili endured three lost finals, two lost semifinals, before this year's breakthrough success that gave him the honour of taking the trophy home to Motueka where he was struck by the passion from locals.

Such pride offers a timely reminder that many within the rugby community feel much more connected to their provinces than they do the Super Rugby franchises, and that the All Blacks are by no means the sole source of inspiration.

Tasman's dominance this season was such that they are the first team to complete 12 games unbeaten since Auckland in 2007.

"To create bit of history there, and to win it for the first time, was extra special as well. There was a lot of relief. Looking back at it now that feeling of winning that trophy was outstanding.

"Going into the Tasman season we knew we had a strong team on paper but in previous years we'd looked ahead too far so to get to that last game and to play it at home was extra special."

Tasman captain David Havili celebrates winning the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership final. Photo / Photosport
Tasman captain David Havili celebrates winning the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership final. Photo / Photosport

Havili is only 24 and yet this was his second season captaining Tasman – the responsibility a reflection of his growing influence and maturity at all levels.

"I found it quite hard the first year I captained. I paid a lot of attention to our leaders at the Crusaders and how they go about their stuff. I did a bit of work with Sam Whitelock and Kieran Read so I could implement that on our Tasman season.

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"I tried to get the most out of the boys but it took a bit of work to get to where we wanted to go."

Havili lined up for the All Blacks against the Barbarians at Twickenham on his first northern tour two years ago. He's now embracing the chance to don the Baabaas strip for the first time before returning to the Crusaders in early January and kick starting a year in which the door to the national team is ajar following Ben Smith's departure.

"Being here the last couple of days with the lads it takes you back and reminds you why you play rugby. It's to have fun, enjoy each other's company, and play an exciting brand of rugby.

"The All Blacks is always in the back of my mind but I can only control how I play week in week out and enjoy my rugby. Hopefully I can have a good couple of weeks off and then get back firing for the 2020 season."

Havili also threw his support behind Scott Robertson's bid to be All Blacks coach.

"If he gets the job, it'll be awesome for him. He's been outstanding the last four or five years with Canterbury and the Crusaders. He knows how to read players and he really makes you play for him. That's the sort of guy he is. He's pretty upfront and wants the best out of the players.

"I hope he gets it but, if he doesn't, it'll be a bonus for us to keep him back at the Crusaders."