Greg Feek envisioned a two-year stay in Ireland. Instead, when he signs off after the Rugby World Cup, he will leave with dual passports and a sense of fulfilment after working alongside Joe Schmidt, the New Zealand coaches combining to help transform the game in the Emerald Isle.

After a playing career which featured 10 tests for the All Blacks and successful years with the Crusaders and Canterbury following a move from Taranaki, Feek retired in 2006 due to a problematic neck injury.

"In the front row you probably get 20 of them but the unfortunate thing for me was it came in the same spot every time," Feek recalls from Dublin this week ahead of the Six Nations final round. "It got to a point where you get weakness in the arm and shoulder and they say it's best to stop now.

"You try to fight through but there's probably a subconscious element holding you back as well and that's when you know something is not quite right."


With plans to play abroad scuppered, Feek turned to coaching. In 2010 he joined Leinster from the Hurricanes; the following season juggling those duties while earning promotion to oversee the national team's scrum, going on to work with some of the best front rowers in the game in Tadhg Furlong and Cian Healy.

The New Zealand All Black front row of Greg Somerville, Anton Oliver and Greg Feek against Italy. Photo / Getty
The New Zealand All Black front row of Greg Somerville, Anton Oliver and Greg Feek against Italy. Photo / Getty

"I ended up working for Leinster and Ireland which was difficult from a family perspective but great from a professional point of view."

That year same year Schmidt arrived at Leinster – and the Kiwis have been inseparable ever since.

"I can pretty much guess what he's going to say sometimes. The relationship is more about support around different aspects.

"You have the areas that you coach but there's then an overview you chat about. Head coaches tend to take on a lot and when you're coaching overseas there definitely needs to be some support in how you do the job.

"I've got tremendous respect working for him but also I feel lucky with the timing."

Schmidt shocked many when, late last year, he announced plans to step away from coaching after the World Cup to focus on family commitments after returning to New Zealand.

Feek, though, knew Schmidt's intentions long before they became public.

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo / Getty
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo / Getty

"I don't know what his future is. I know watching the All Blacks is something we always do. Being a Kiwi you still support them but your whole commitment is here.

"He mentioned it to me a while back. It's something I can understand in some ways but also I don't know whether that's forever. It seems that way for the short to medium term."

During his nine years in Ireland, Feek has witnessed a sea change in everything from the relationships between the clubs and the national union; the success of the national team, and the self-confidence of a rugby nation.

"People talk about going to a foreign country with the language barrier but you've also got the way they see things - the past history and how that's influenced it. You've got to take a breath and go step by step.

"It has changed a lot from when I first arrived."

The culmination, of course, came last year when Ireland swept all before them to claim the Six Nations; a first away series in Australia and first home victory over the All Blacks.

"I felt it building a few years back in terms of the quality of the players' attitude; the hunger for them to be a winning team. Munster used to win a lot of European titles and then Leinster wanted to get there and that gets infectious.

"That's why Leinster chased Joe.

"Last year is hard to explain because you move so fast; you win the grand slam and then you're off to Aussie. You get to the end of it and you go 'wow'.

"You forget to reflect on it at times because it just keeps going.

"For us it's making sure you don't forget what you stand for, and what got you there, but also you're trying to improve and build depth for a World Cup."

If last year was the great heights campaign, the start of this season has seen swift a tumble from those peaks.

Ireland coaching team. Photo / Getty
Ireland coaching team. Photo / Getty

Ireland's confidence was severely rocked in their opening 32-20 Six Nations defeat to England in Dublin. Only in last week's 26-14 win over France did Schmidt's men look to be rediscovering the version that saw them regarded as the world's best last year.

"It was a different week, I'll always remember it," Feek says of the England loss. "It's hard to take, and you don't want to lose games, but sometimes losing a massive game, and to a team like that where there's a lot of rivalry, you take a lot of things out of it too."

This week Ireland travels to Cardiff with hopes of ruining the grand slam claims of Wales, unbeaten in their last 13 tests.

This fixture, which promises fever pitch atmosphere, should provide a true gauge of where both teams sit, as they build for the World Cup, a tournament where Ireland have failed to progress past the quarterfinals.

"I know there's been various comments about why and how but being in our environment you know what needs to be done and you can't get too distracted with what's happened in the past or look too far forward.

"We're not panicking and we're trying to solve it. The boys really care about making it right. We're all in it together. Once you've got the recipe, and you get that back again, the momentum can build."

On a personal level Feek's juggling act continues as he makes his way home.

While continuing with Ireland, he recently completed his first season in charge of forwards and defence at the NEC Green Rockets in Japan, taking over the role from fellow Kiwi Dave Dillon who moved to join Wayne Smith at Kobe.

Supportive wife Jessica and their two boys Quinn, 10, and Oscar, 12, have relocated back to Christchurch, leaving Feek swinging between three countries.

After returning to NEC next season, Feek hopes to secure a coaching role in New Zealand.

"I'm going to be living there and that's the commitment we've made as a family. You back yourself to get into some coaching but also to come back and learn again.

"There's a lot of great coaches back home so I'm mindful I'm not just going to walk into something but it's a great place to be involved in rugby.

"I'm always trying to keep tabs on how things are changing. It's something most Kiwi coaches overseas want to aspire to."

Concluding his time with Ireland in Japan will be strange – Tokyo being a world away from Dublin.

Feek will miss the vibe, the Irish people.

Wherever Ireland finish at the World Cup, Feek may seek out a classic Irish pub and savour a Guinness to toast his memorable ride.

"There will be plenty of Irish around so if there's one there that could be quite fitting. I'll have to keep that in mind.

"We're pretty driven. You can't get too sentimental about it but it will be afterwards, looking back, in two to three years' time where it will sink in."