The story of how Brodie Retallick almost missed the Rugby World Cup could well go down in folklore.
Aqua jogging is, after all, the last thing anyone would associate Retallick with.
Regularly the enforcer of the All Blacks pack, visions of Retallick are much more likely to feature him throwing tin at the gym, working on his cars, listening to rock, or steamrolling defenders.
Visions of aqua jogging often involve the elderly, not one of the world's most influential rugby players.
Yet it was performing this activity with his wife in Hamilton where the prospect of Retallick featuring in Japan took a sharp upward turn.
Prior to that, Retallick felt the World Cup could be out of reach after the dislocated shoulder he suffered as a result of an illegal cleanout from Springboks lock RG Snyman on July 27 left him in a race against time.
"To be honest I wasn't holding much hope until I actually went aqua jogging," Retallick said.
"I was aqua jogging along and I had a bit of sharp pain and I grabbed my shoulder and I thought 'that hurt'.
"It sort of seemed to click into place, whether there was a bit of scar tissue or something there I'm not sure but I heard it click and it felt good at the time.
"From there I got out of the pool and it was pretty much good as gold I could lift it above my head and out to the side. That was maybe three or four days before the team got named."
This is, possibly, how close Retallick came to not making the World Cup squad.
Given his influence, the All Blacks were always happy to take the risk of carrying Retallick, even if it meant he would not feature until the knockout stages. But had his shoulder not clicked into place, it may have been touch and go whether he would be available during any stage of this tournament.
Retallick's progress is now ahead of schedule, with his return possibly set to come in the final group match against Italy in Toyota City, though the All Blacks are content to be patient.
Should he return to full fitness and play a typically starring role in the knockout stages, aqua jogging will have to be hailed.
"If I could be playing next week against Canada I'd like to but I don't think that'll be the case so we'll have to wait and see how the next eight or nine days go. We're not sure on an exact date but hopefully sooner rather than later I'll be available for selection."
Retallick has regained the full range of motion in his left shoulder and has been lifting in lineouts at training for the past nine days. The next stage is to gradually work back into full contact, having been forced to sit this part out. Despite clocking up the kilometres while injured, he says his weight remains steady at 120kg.
"It's been pretty frustrating I've been doing a lot of running up and down the sideline. There's been a fair bit of heat so it's fair to say I was over that about three weeks ago. Hopefully that'll pay dividends when I do get back out there.
"Fitness is probably the best it's ever been. In an ideal world I'd have two full weeks of contact leading into a match."
In Retallick's absence Patrick Tuipulotu first stepped up against the Wallabies at Eden Park and Scott Barrett was one of the best athletes in the All Blacks' opening World Cup win over the Springboks in Yokohama.
Retallick particularly enjoying seeing his second-row partner striding out to score under the sticks.
"That was outstanding. It's always good to see the tight forwards open up. The whole game was exciting - it's probably the first time in quite some time I've jumped up out of my seat watching a game. I'm normally pretty calm. It was pretty nerve-racking at times but on the whole it was an enjoyable watch."
The All Blacks are, naturally, keen to welcome Retallick back but assistant coach Ian Foster noted they have also been pleased with the contributions of the other second-rowers.
"He's really important to us but the last two years we've had a lot of rugby without him as well," Foster said. "There's no doubt when Brodie is there he brings composure to our group but his absence has given a massive opportunity particularly for Scott and Paddy to grow up into that space. If we can get Brodie back to 100 per cent, we're in a pretty good position."
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