I have never been more wrong about a rugby player than I was when I first met Scott Robertson early in 1996.

The then 21-year-old surfer from Mt Maunganui had arrived in Christchurch to play as a loose forward for the Crusaders, and I looked forward to meeting him.

There was an easy conversation starter. My wife Jan and I had gone to school with his mother, Jo, at Waihi College in the Thames Valley.

Honesty call? After my first encounter with Robertson, who didn't so much to have a spark in his eyes as a four alarm fire, I wondered if he was for real.

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Nobody, surely, could be that enthused about rugby, or life, or really any damned thing.

Andrew Mehrtens soon put me right. He talked about how Scott, soon to become, and forevermore, "Razor" in the Crusaders, was at training. He was the sort of guy, joked Mehrtens, who, when the fitness coach called for gutbusters (a series of sprints and short rests, apparently invented by the first sadist given a coach's whistle) would murmur to teammates, "Yah, we're doing gutbusters!"

The passion, energy and drive to do well were, time would prove, as 100 per cent real as the bone-jarring quality of his tackles. His tackling sparked his Razor nickname.

Wallaby centre Pat Howard was famous for being pretty lippy on the field. A slightly embarrassed Robertson told me a couple of years ago that, "He [Howard] ran a one-two cut with the Brumbies, and I got him on the right shoulder. The boys talked about me cutting him in half. Like it was a blade. Then the name sort of evolved from that."

What many won't realise about the man who may become a major contender for the All Blacks coaching job at the end of the year, is that in many ways, behind the fun, and laughter and break dancing, Robertson has followed a serious, lengthy path to become a coach.

At 22, he was coaching an under-13 side at Christ's College, and he's extremely proud of taking his Sumner club team into first grade when he retired from playing in 2007.

He moved to Christchurch at a time when rugby in the city was about to be revitalised by a trio of great coaches, Wayne Smith, Robbie Deans and Steve Hansen. From being dead-set last on the Super Rugby table in '96, the Crusaders would win the title in 1998.

"I still use so much of what I do today from what I learned back then," says Robertson. "I draw from those years all the time. I had three of the greatest coaches. They shaped my philosophy of coaching."

The young Robertson's commitment didn't stop when he left the field.

"I had my own playbook with my moves and my structures. I'd go to the different coaches and show them, and say, 'Can I do this better? What about this?' I'm doing that with my players now. It's a big thing to come from another environment and sacrifice everything for the team and jersey."

The jokes and humour ("My wife has two degrees," he once told a radio interviewer. "One for her and one for me.") may be real, but so is a bone deep dedication to his coaching.

At Super Rugby level, a sunny nature will only take a coach so far. The player with the bulging playbook showed Robertson's serious side, and in private, he can sometimes have to work to fend off anxiety.

"If I sleep well, I know I've prepared my team well. I do have to be quite disciplined. I start getting these random thoughts, and then I start jotting things down and the cycle starts. I'm still working on it."

The tweak that adds so much to his technical expertise does come down to attitude.

When Robertson became head coach of Canterbury in 2013, one of the veteran players, Andy Ellis, a shrewd judge of character, said: "Razor just has so much energy, and he's very much his own man. You feel it's a case of 'I'm me, I'm having fun, and it's going to be fun for you, too, if you join me on the journey'."

If there was ever a prime example of how different Robertson is from the stereotype of a granite-faced rugby coach, it was the moment he says he knew he had the hearts and minds of the Crusaders when he first took over the team in 2017.

After they had played the Highlanders in a pre-season game in Darfield, 35km west of Christchurch, he took the team to the isolation of Pudding Hill Lodge, near Mt Hutt, for years a favourite spot for Canterbury school camps.

"We talked about our year, our mission, and how we wanted to be remembered," says Robertson.

The meeting finished, the players started to drift away, until Robertson drew them in again. "Come and listen to the music," he urged.

The team gathered, and a small band formed by the players, driven by loose forward Peter Samu on drums, started to play.

"We were away," says Robertson. "It all connected in. Some really good memories that night, and it broke some of the barriers that you need to break down to get tight."

The best coaches all have their own style. The wonderful thing about Robertson is that the fire in the eyes he had in 1996 shows no signs of dimming.