Invite-only card games, game-day rituals and The Gambler - welcome to the secret world of the All Blacks. As anticipation grows ahead of the British and Irish Lions tour, Tony Veitch spent time with some of our rugby heroes and found out some of the inside workings of our men in black.

When the All Blacks win a test match, only one song can be played as the team leaves the ground and arrives at the hotel.

That song is The Gambler by Kenny Rogers.

Word has it Sir Graham Henry first espoused the virtues of this classic to celebrate victory. In Ted's words, he wanted a song for all generations, a true classic sing-along.

What makes this part of modern All Black folklore all the more interesting is the boys in charge of the "bus music", which includes Damian McKenzie, must ensure the timing of the song and the arrival of the bus is bang on.


So if they are approaching the team hotel and The Gambler has not reached its crescendo, the bus driver is instructed to slow down. There can be no mistakes.

Compare that to the bus ride to the ground. Dead silence, no talking, game faces on. As one All Black described it to me, "it's like heading to a funeral".

The bus ride is not like a school trip with the race to the back seat. That has always remained the domain of the leadership group and management sits up front.

But here's where it gets really interesting. Seats are assigned to a player by the number of caps played.

But what happens if you take a seat up front and a less-experienced All Black arrives on board and needs to sit in front of you?

This can be really awkward for so called "inbetweeners" and a huge source of amusement to the elder statesman whose seats are assured and who must decide where the newbies are assigned. Musical chairs at its funniest.

Onto the pre-match rituals of individual players.

Always shy farmer from the deep south Liam Squire has his own must-do for music on game day. He has one heavy metal song only on which he pushes play as the bus starts and makes its journey to the venue.

On to TJ Perenara. Not only is "Thomas"- yes TJ does have a first name - freakishly clean in his hotel room, he's also a stickler for how he fronts up in All Black gear.

You might be aware every player's initials are sewn into their clothing, to make washing day bearable. But when it comes to his socks, TJ cannot play in two bearing the letter L, or two with Rs on them. Quite simply, TJ must have one left sock and one right, otherwise outright panic sets in.

If Thomas could swap places with any All Black, past or present, his choice would be Beauden Barrett.

Other quirky facts:

• Sam Whitelock wears the same style of black and white jockey undies every match he plays. Here's hoping he has a drawerful.

• Coach Steve Hansen never delivers the pre-match speech; that is the job of the skipper. That's a massive sea change from the days when Henry used to deliver his rugby sermons before Tana Umaga, as skipper, decided enough was enough.

• Once at the ground, all players have their own preferred dressing room spot.

• There is card-playing group in the All Blacks. Made up mostly of Cantabs, this is by invitation only.

• Test eve is what the players call "treat night" - a reward for a hard week of training. At around 8.30pm, the team baggage manager, affectionately known as "Chalky", delivers the boys a swag of chocolate. As traditions go, this may well be the players' favourite.

• On game day, the boys tend to eat about 3pm. The cuisine of choice of many is poached chicken, pasta and a few poached eggs. They deliberately keep the food bland, as many players have been known to vomit from pre-match nerves.

• Job done, bring on 7.30pm and kick off!