He's one of the best players on the planet, dazzling rugby fans across the globe with his breathtaking skills and now Beauden Barrett is helping future All Blacks develop their skills with his new book Beaudy: Skills, Drills & the Path to the Top. In this extract, Barrett reveals his first sporting love - and the moment he started taking rugby seriously.
My Mum and Dad had looked into overseas rugby contracts in the late 1990s, but nothing came of it and when Dad eventually retired in 1999, he'd had enough of rugby. But they couldn't resist the opportunity which arose shortly after to manage a dairy farm in Ireland with a bit of footy on the side.
With six kids in tow, Jenna being just 18 months old, we headed off in January 2000, for a somewhat different kind of OE to what most people experience.
We lived in a small parish called Ballinacree in County Meath, just over an hour's drive north of Dublin.
The parish had a church, school, general store and a couple of bed factories while about five kilometres up the road was a bigger town, Oldcastle, which had a population of no more than 1000 people but was home to 13 pubs.
Our school at home, Pungarehu primary, had about 60 kids, three classrooms and one school bus, and the one we went to in Ireland, St Fiach's National School, was close to the same size but that's where the similarities ended.
In Ireland, we had a traditional school uniform, which to my, Kane and Scott's horror included having to wear shoes and socks — a completely foreign concept for us! I found out the hard way on the first day that they were non-negotiable too when I thought nothing of whipping them off at morning interval to kick a soccer ball around, despite it being the middle of winter. Mrs McCormick, my new teacher, wasn't overly impressed to see a barefoot Kiwi kid and dismissed my protests that I really didn't need the shoes, much to my outrage.
Even stranger for us than having to wear shoes in the first place was that you took them off before going into the classroom and popped on a pair of slippers!
Despite the rule about shoes it was a great school, very traditional and disciplined in its way of teaching and learning, and I'm sure when I got home later I was a lot smarter than my peers because of it. Every afternoon we had milk deliveries dropped off by a 'wee lorry' (what we'd call a small truck!), which I absolutely loved. We adapted to life in Ireland quite quickly.
Of course, we got stuck into playing sport over there as well. I really enjoyed Gaelic football, a fast and skilful game for which you need good endurance and where Dad's lessons about kicking off both feet proved vital. It was great for my hand–eye coordination and vision, being able to see space on the field. Dad had a crack as well, but let's just say he was probably a bit rough and physical and developed a reputation for introducing the 'fend' into it.
I got really into soccer too, developing a love for Manchester United and Irishman Roy Keane, thinking I was going to become a professional footballer like him and make millions.
I desperately wanted a pair of adidas Predator boots like David Beckham and once I got my hands on some, they would be my boots of choice for years to come.
We played rugby for Mullingar and spent our weekends watching Dad turn out for the Buccaneers in Athlone and the All Ireland competition. Our time in Ireland was an amazing life experience for a nine-year-old, getting a taste of a different community, culture and country, and I made lifelong friends.
Sixteen months in Ireland were followed by 16 months of another new experience once we got home. Mum and Dad had decided to rebuild the main farmhouse which meant we lived in the farm cottage while the build was happening. Mum, Dad, six of us, rather seven of us, as baby Zara arrived during this time, squeezing into the three-bedroom cottage made for quite a highlight.
Mum reckons it was fine, just a place to put our heads since we didn't spend a lot of time inside anyway, and nothing that couldn't be fixed by a few sets of bunk beds and living a bit lightly for a while. But it was such a treat when we moved into the big new house where I had my own room for the first time and we had a massive rumpus room at our disposal as well.
The fire still roars in winter and often there are scones in the oven.
It was around this time, returning from Ireland and in the final year at Pungarehu primary, which went up to year 8 (and incidentally was shut down by the Ministry of Education in 2003, much to my horror), that rugby started to take on a new level of importance for me.
Because Dad was well known in the region, I'd always tried hard and taken rugby seriously in order to make him proud, but it was making the Taranaki under-13s for under-60 kilos where it became quite a big deal.
I thought I was very cool in my black jacket with the Taranaki emblem on it and wore it everywhere. Making that team gave me a real boost as I was heading to boarding school at Francis Douglas Memorial College where there would be more competition for places and a bigger pool to select from.
I loved boarding school. I got to hang out with my mates 24/7 and we could get up to a bit of mischief — nothing really bad or naughty that would get us in serious trouble, but usually anything that would wind up the dorm supervisor.
I was quite good at initiating the mischief and then managing to slip away at the right time, being smart enough or quick enough to leave my mates to get caught. It was always worth it even if we did have to do a lot of dishes as punishment.
When it came to schoolwork and in the classroom, I would say I was 'good enough', certainly not a star student, but I got by even though I wasn't all that good at studying or focusing on what I should be. Quite often I'd be drawing rugby moves or coming up with plays on my notepad instead.
The great thing about boarding school was I didn't have the chores to do as I would at home so there was lots of spare time to play sport. After school, I would spend hours bowling in the cricket nets with my mates, playing Force Back or practising goal-kicking with my homemade tees.
I would cut a 600 ml Coke bottle in half, put it up through a cone, wrap it with insulation tape so it wouldn't move, then trim it up to get the angle and height I wanted. It was a more precise way than kicking the ball out of a shoe, and I spent plenty of time making them durable, getting the right colours and making them look good.
I loved practising kicking and having competitions with my mates, seeing how far we could nail a goal from and trying to emulate Andrew Mehrtens. There's something therapeutic about going down to the park to kick balls and my homemade tees were things of beauty.
Skills, Drills & the Path to the Top written with Rikki Swannell. On sale 15 October, $39.99 RRP (Mower, an imprint of Upstart Press).