All Blacks halfback TJ Perenara says a team "vulnerability group" started by Sonny Bill Williams and Ardie Savea is helping players keep their mental health in good shape.
1 Describe your childhood in Titahi Bay.
I grew up in a small, whānau-oriented community. A lot of my childhood was spent outside, playing with friends and family down at Onepoto Park where all the kids hung out – softball, rugby or whatever. Every weekend my parents would drop me at my grandparents' house and I'd sit outside waiting for my cousin Byron to come and play.
2 What were your parents' aspirations for you?
They just wanted me to be a good person, regardless of what I did in life. A big thing they used to say to me was they didn't care if I was a lawyer, a doctor, a footy player, or a rubbish man. Whatever career path I chose, they wanted me to try to be the best I could in that, and a good person. So that's something that I try and live by.
3 If you weren't a rugby player, what would you be?
I'd like to work with troubled youth. I love Porirua, it's home and I want everyone who comes from Porirua to be proud of it too. But I also see the hardship in my community. I didn't have a lot growing up but I had enough, and I had opportunities that I see kids today don't have and that hurts me. It's something I'm passionate about and I want to help. Money's not something that drives me a hell of a lot. It probably did when I was younger.
4 Can you remember the moment you realised money doesn't drive you?
Probably when I got some. Money came with rugby. I was lucky enough to play footy and get paid good money to do it, but I wasn't the best person I could be, so I wasn't happy. Money can give you more freedom and opportunities but there's so much more to being a happy human being. If I can earn enough money to put food on the table for my whanau then that will take the pressure off so I can dedicate myself to working with youth.
5 Do you often get asked to stand for election?
I have lately. I support Labour because I come from a staunch Labour Party family but I don't actually know too much about politics or how it works.
6 Why did you go to the protest at Ihumātao?
I'd been using my social media platforms to tautoko or show support from afar but something was missing. I wanted to be there - to be a part of the people. So when we were up in Auckland for the test match I just said, "I'm going". Being able to do that was very moving not just for me, but also my wife and my parents. Dad's Māori (Ngati Rangatihi, Te Arawa). He grew up in Auckland so was a bit gutted that he didn't know about Ihumātao. Seeing him woken up to it was a real special moment for me. He was very proud.
7 Do you agree with the Government's decision last week to make New Zealand history compulsory in schools?
I do. As a kid, I was taught that Captain Cook founded New Zealand. A lot more happened before he stepped on these shores and a lot more happened afterwards. We should be taught everything about our past because that's what's shaped our mind-set today. People shy away from having those conversations because there could be conflict involved. I think conflict's healthy, as long as people aren't nasty and it's done in a respectful way. That's where growth lies.
8 Do you take active steps to look after your mental health?
I do. Sonny (Bill Williams) and Ardie (Savea) have created a "vulnerability group" for our team. About eight of us belong. It's a safe space where we can just come, chill, have a coffee and share whatever's going on in our lives; if we're having problems at home or in the team. Even if nothing's wrong, just share that.
9 Why is vulnerability important?
As boys we're taught to harden up, man up and move on. But once you're an adult with real problems, if you're trying to keep it all inside, that's when bad things can happen. You get home and spew it all out. We need to show boys that it's okay to be vulnerable and talk about your feelings. If we can do some of that work here between us, it's going to make us better players and when we go home, we're going to be better men for our wives, our parents and our brothers and sisters.
10 Why are you a vegetarian?
Mainly for environmental reasons. I watched a documentary called Cowspiracy which showed that agricultural farming accounted for 51 per cent of the world's pollution. My goal is to become vegan so I'm completely free of dairy farming. Physically, I've felt great since I stopped eating meat two years ago. I feel cleaner. I don't get bloated. I don't have as many down days. When I used to have junk food blow-outs, my energy levels would be low the next day. I still get tired, as we all do, but my energy levels are a lot more consistent.
11 Is it hard to be vegetarian as an elite athlete?
It's probably easier for me being in this environment. I can just tell a nutritionist what I want to eat and they'll make sure I get a balanced diet. At home, we're all vegetarians. My cousin and his fiancé who lived with us were vegetarians first. Now my wife and I are too so that makes cooking meals easier.
12 What music are you listening to at the moment?
I've been listening to a lot of J Cole. I like what he has to say.