Another All Blacks tour gets set to depart, the focus once more on senior players whose knowledge and expertise will be critical in the coming weeks.

One of them who might well have been there, a key player as the 2007 World Cup comes ever closer, will for sure keep an interested eye on events. It's just that, at 29, Ron Cribb knows that his time with the All Blacks is gone forever.

Indeed, it seems increasingly unlikely that Cribb will have any more meaningful playing links with New Zealand. And maybe there is only one man to blame for that state of affairs. Ron Cribb.

The former All Black, now playing his rugby for the Kobe club in Japan, confesses that he might have handled events differently had he had another opportunity.

But a crippling run of injuries after his outstanding Super 12 season for the Crusaders back in 2000, when he scored a superb individual try in the final against the Brumbies in Canberra, plus the distraction of disciplinary problems broke the pattern of what had been a superb year.

He won 15 caps for the All Blacks in 2000 and 2001, and some saw him as one of the great ball handling All Black No 8s in the making. Alas, the former North Harbour and Maori player declined from that peak and left New Zealand for Japan in 2003.

And today? Well, Cribb smiles with a hint of melancholy at the memories.

"With hindsight, I left New Zealand too early," he admits. "I had a major injury that kept me out for a year, and I don't think I dealt with it all in the best way.

"I felt at the time I needed a change from the environment I was in. I had gone stale, and my drive wasn't there. Personalities were a part of it, too."

"But I am responsible, and I should have been big enough to try to deal with that. But when you are given a business opportunity and you have a family, you have to look for future security. When I was an All Black, it was always me first.

"But things change when you have a family."

Cribb has certainly got on with his life. He has greatly impressed his Kobe employers with his management skills and willingness to lead by example and help the younger Japanese players. Frankly, they couldn't have a better tutor.

He also has his view on the vexed issue of the World Cup in 2011.

"If the IRB want to make some money, I would bring it here. I am sure the Japanese people would turn up for a World Cup.

"There are issues within Japanese rugby that need to be worked on, like the level of refereeing. But they would have six years to build their national side and strengthen the sport in this country. But already you get crowds of 50,000 to 60,000 for major university games, so I don't see a weakness.

"They have some talented players here. They have a good opportunity to put a crack infrastructure in place, but it's whether they are able to be humble enough to take outside opinions and advice. My belief is you have to learn from other teams and countries.

"But as for the World Cup, I believe you have got to share it around. It is a global sport so why not make it truly global by giving it to Japan."

It's his second year in Japanese rugby, and he jokes about them having their way and point of view on the game, which is different to how New Zealanders play their rugby.

But as Cribb says: "Coming here, you have to be humble about the fact that you are entering a different culture and mindset. I don't necessarily know their philosophy. Professional rugby only really started here three years ago, and they are going through the transition from amateur to pro and semi-pro. There is a lot of work to be done."

Like all Kiwis in temporary, self-imposed exile, Cribb takes a close interest in New Zealand rugby. He commends Graham Henry for enlisting the services of men such as Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen as his assistants, describing them as the best coaches he ever had. And he enthuses about the quality of youngsters now emerging at the top level.

"I get the impression there are plenty of good young players, new guys coming through who are great athletes and look exciting prospects.

"I am always a supporter of New Zealand rugby. New Zealand people just get behind the team.

"They have so much passion for such a small country.

"I believe New Zealand has done really well to stay near the top of the world game.

"When you come here, you see a land of 130 million people with an economy to match that size. Compared to home, it's very different."