All Blacks great Christian Cullen has opened up about life in the spotlight in a candid interview with World Rugby.

In the video, the 58-test fullback reveals he was most nervous about performing the haka ahead of his debut test as he's "not a big haka guy".

His debut test – as a 20-year-old against Samoa in Napier in 1996 – proved challenging but not for obvious reasons, Cullen said.

"I had just come off the sevens [circuit] which was helpful, because [Eric] Rush was there, Jonah [Lomu] was there ... those boys were in the ABs. For me, a young kid from Paekakariki, it was quite intimidating. When we were coming through it was still a lot of that old-school mentality. You had to earn respect and work your way up," Cullen said.


"You sit in that change room and you get your jersey. I was probably more nervous about the haka more than anything in that first game. It wasn't about the game because, I guess, if you're there you're there for a reason, you can play.

"It was probably more about I'm not a big haka guy so it was probably the most nervous [I've been]. Once the haka's gone you're into it and it ended up being a pretty good start."

Cullen scored a total of 46 test tries, establishing himself as one of the leading scorers in the game before his last appearance on the international stage in Paris in 2002.

He says playing with Lomu at the Hurricanes and the All Blacks was a particular highlight.

Christian Cullen and his parents after his debut test against Samoa in 1996. Photo / Photospprt
Christian Cullen and his parents after his debut test against Samoa in 1996. Photo / Photospprt

"I just had an attacking mindset and our team at the time – we had Tana [Umaga] and obviously Jonah was down at the Hurricanes with us.

"We were all just free-spirited and played like that and once you get to the All Blacks, obviously you've got a pretty good forward pack in front of you and you get those opportunities to do that.

"With Jonah and Jeff [Wilson], we had some handy players."

Cullen played in the midfield during the All Blacks' failed World Cup campaign in 1999.


He had a strained relationship with former All Blacks coach John Mitchell and was controversially dropped for the 2003 World Cup. Cullen quit Wellington for Munster in Ireland soon after but following four injury-plagued seasons was forced to hang up his boots late in 2007.

"There are a few things in my career I would loved to have done. The [1999] World Cup, playing at centre wasn't my favourite position. I would have loved to go in and play fullback," Cullen said.

"But back then you pretty much played where you were told and what's best for the team. I would've played anywhere just to get on the field.

"The other thing for me is I would've loved to get to 100 games for the Hurricanes. I got to 85 and another couple seasons there would've been good. There are probably three regrets but it is what it is."