As Kiwis fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad ran on to the field on Saturday against the Kangaroos in Hamilton, he repeated a simple mantra.
It had been on his mind all week, as he promised himself – and his teammates - that he would deliver.
I can, he said quietly. And I will.
But this was more than just motivation, as he was battling the odds.
The 28-year-old produced a man of the match performance, in easily the best game of his international career. And he did it despite a broken rib, which meant he couldn’t train fully over the past two weeks, after the bone was smashed up against Samoa at Eden Park.
“It was really painful in the Samoan game,” Nicoll-Klokstad told the Herald. “It was a bit sore last week. I had to get two separate painkilling jabs and have a huge pad. But it came back to that mentality thing; I missed the mark mentally last week.”
There were many heroes on Saturday as the Kiwis completed a famous victory over the Kangaroos – just their second in 10 clashes since 2016 – with their 30-0 triumph. But Nicoll-Klokstad typified the desire, determination and camaraderie in this squad.
It was only his fourth test at fullback but the kind of performance that will be long remembered, especially given the physical baggage. Three weeks ago, against Samoa, he felt an instant rush of pain as he braced for contact in a tackle. It was a good, legal hit but something wasn’t quite right and it was more than a knock.
”It happened early in the game, 15 minutes in,” said Nicoll-Klokstad. “I ran off the field at halftime to get it jabbed and that’s when they found out.”
It made the following week a challenge, as the Kiwis prepared to play Australia in Melbourne.
”That was the hardest,” said Nicoll-Klokstad. “I had to get my head around moving with it and knowing that, yep, it was broken and I’ve just got to get through the session.”
He didn’t do any contact work but still couldn’t avoid reminders.
”I couldn’t even sneeze, that was a bit painful,” he said, also feeling while it sleeping. It was a compromised preparation and he was far from his best in Melbourne, as the Kiwis were outpointed 36-18.
Nicoll-Klokstad was pinned in his own territory for much of the match, unable to impose himself on the game.
”It was a good learning curve for me personally, I felt I was a little bit too much in my head and missed my assignment,” he said. “I didn’t play the standard I wanted to play and it came back to a mentality thing.”
”I was really looking forward to this week because I knew I could be a lot better, getting back to what I know how to do. It was simple; I just had a phrase in my head the whole week. It was - ‘I can and I will’.”
Before Saturday’s match he had injections in two separate areas to numb the area, popped a couple of painkillers and strapped a large pad over his left chest.
”Then I was good to go.”
And what a display. He made 277 metres from 30 carries, with six tackle busts. He created two line breaks, set up a try with a reflex pass and organised his defence superbly.
”I wanted to make amends,” said Nicoll-Klokstad. “Be better, be my best. Hopefully the boys are proud of the effort.”
With jubilant fans staying on a long time around the final whistle, the magnitude of the victory began to sink in.
”I’m honoured, proud, grateful – so many emotions and feelings,” said Nicoll-Klokstad. “First win against Australia and what a way to do it too.”
His proud coach Maguire summed up the effort.
“He actually wasn’t meant to play,” admitted Maguire. “It just goes to show what players will do when they are playing for their country. He wasn’t quite sure after the Samoan game if he would keep going but he didn’t want to leave [camp] and when you have got things like that going on within your group and then good leadership, you come up with some special performances.”
Michael Burgess has been a sports journalist since 2005, winning several national awards and covering Olympics, Fifa World Cups and America’s Cup campaigns. He has also reported on the Warriors and NRL for more than a decade.