Who was the greatest rugby fullback you've ever seen? For me, it was Christian Cullen. Hands down. Not even close - which was the case for legions of defenders who tried to stop him.

Sit through a Best-Of tape of Cullen's tries and it's breathtaking.

It's nearly four years since the Wellington wizard's All Black career and record haul of test tries ended in a confusing mix of injury and indifference.

As the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand Rugby puts it: "Though Cullen appeared to have lost some of his pace after his knee operation, he remained one of the most skilled players in the country, though that wasn't necessarily a view shared by the All Black coach John Mitchell."

So it was off to Munster, where a few of their avid fans have complained that Cullen is the greatest fullback they hardly ever see.

Injury, injury injury has been the theme. Having got over major setbacks, he was even invalided out of the Heineken Cup final last month, where Munster triumphed over Biarritz in Cardiff. Cullen is currently negotiating again with Munster, and says a return is likely but not certain.

The 30-year-old zoomed back to New Zealand a few days ago for the first time since moving to Ireland.

Until now, he and his Kiwi partner Mandy Fawcett have hosted friends and family in Munster, and taken the chance to holiday in Greece and Spain.

His return coincides with Ireland's two-test tour.

Just hours off the plane, the laconic rugby genius talked Irish rugby, injuries and even that infamous Super 14 final.

Right. Put it on the line, fella. Can Ireland nail their first win over the All Blacks?

Irish teams have done all right through the European Cup and Celtic League, and Ireland won the Triple Crown, so they'll come here with a bit of confidence. They'll give it a better crack than they did in Ireland last year. But I dunno about beating the All Blacks.

But it's hardly a full-strength All Black side, with Dan Carter and a good few others getting a bit of kip during the Irish series.

My internet's been down back home so I haven't really caught up on all of that.

Put it this way Cully. If you'd hung around here a bit longer, you could have become a junior All Black. It's all different these days.

Huh. Well ... if it's what you say and some of the big boys are being rested, maybe Ireland will think they've got a good shot here. Will it be like the All Black team which played in Ireland just gone? Those All Blacks did all right didn't they? But Brian O'Driscoll and [Munster lock] Paul O'Connell are back, which will really boost their confidence.

Who are the key Irish players?

O'Connell is one of their big guns. When he goes well, their whole team goes well. Ronan O'Gara and O'Driscoll are the others. O'Connell missed a few of the Munster games and you could see the difference when he came back. There was a big change in the way the boys played. He plays hard and the boys follow him. He's an inspiration - awesome. He broke his thumb and banged up his shoulder, but he's fully fit now.

Speaking of banged up shoulders ...

Yes, I picked up an injury in my last game in New Zealand, came over here and found it wasn't what we thought it was so had an operation. Came back, and did the other shoulder. It hasn't been a good run. I had a pretty good run with injuries in New Zealand. Hit a wall in Ireland. I'd been out for a while with the shoulder, injured my hammy in training, then the calf, came right and, second game back, did a ligament in my ankle and missed the Heineken Cup final.


One of those things. It's a contact sport. Blokes get hurt every weekend.

Have you kept a match tally?

Not really. Guess more games missed than played. Maybe 30 games.

Good memories?

It was awesome at Cardiff. Never seen anything like it. Munster are the best supporters in the world, especially with travelling support. You go to France to play in some prick of a place to get to, and you walk out in front of four or five thousand Munster supporters. They're fanatical.

What about during the week?

I live in Cork, where rugby is about the fourth sport. About half the team live in Limerick which is the rugby- mad place. Thomond Park - you run out in front of 13,000 and it sounds like 50,000. They're mad. It's an intimidating place for opposition teams.

Back to NZ ... That Aussie Morgan Turinui took a pot-shot at the Maori side. You had a bit of controversy in that area.

Most players who play for the Maori can prove their heritage, a little bit of Maori in them is fine. I did that. Found mine down south somewhere. Dad knew, I didn't have to search too hard. Learning a new haka was the hardest thing about it - the controversy didn't bother me. It's another New Zealand team to play for - they've had some awesome players so it was a big honour. Some people have got nothing better to do than whine about stuff like that.

While we're on clouded issues, how about that Super 14 final?

I was quite disappointed when I turned on the telly and couldn't see anything. People in Ireland found it unbelievable. No matter how cold and frosty it gets there, I don't think I've ever seen fog like that. There weren't too many linebreaks. It was like a cold day in Ireland, where the weather plays a big part and it's mostly penalties.

It's not all sunshine in Ireland ...

No. The worst was one of my comeback games playing for Munster A and it started sleeting into our face. We're in the middle of nowhere, in this cow paddock, running around with ... the wind, it goes right through you.

Get any All Black flashbacks then and there?

I wouldn't say I've enjoyed being away from the All Blacks ... but it's less pressure, being away from international rugby ... It's all water under the bridge, a long time ago. I made my choice back then, I got over it then. It will be good to catch up with a few of the Irish lads. I'll pop up to one of these tests and support whoever.