Jamie Salmon is the only man to have represented both the All Blacks and England in test rugby. On the eve of tonight's Rugby World Cup semifinal showdown between the two teams he told Neil Reid about his remarkable career
Jamie Salmon struck up a pretty close friendship with New Zealand rugby legend Murray Mexted while playing alongside him for both the All Blacks and Wellington.
But in 1985, four years after playing his final test for the All Blacks, he found out in a hurry that that friendship had been put on ice somewhat when Salmon toured New Zealand with the England rugby team.
• 2019 Rugby World Cup: Lawrence Dallaglio putting his money on England to beat All Blacks
• 2019 Rugby World Cup: All Blacks captain Kieran Read missed training due to calf issue
• 2019 Rugby World Cup: Shock claims - Eddie Jones says England training was spied on, ahead of All Blacks semifinal
• 2019 Rugby World Cup: A dig at Richie McCaw? Eddie Jones' sneaky shot at All Blacks legend
"Mex rang me on the Friday before the first test in Christchurch and he said, 'Good on you mate, fantastic you are playing for England as well as the All Blacks ... after the game this is the plan, we'll meet up for a few drinks'," Salmon told the Weekend Herald from his home in England.
"I said, 'Great Mex, see you tomorrow'. And then he said, 'By the way, if you come back on the switch [during the test], I will take you out. See ya'. And then he just put the phone down."
Salmon will tonight join millions of fans in England and New Zealand glued to their TV screens during the All Blacks/England semifinal at International Stadium Yokohama.
The match is almost 41 years since a teenaged Salmon – a proud Englishman who was born in Hong Kong – arrived in New Zealand.
Becoming an All Black was the last thing on his mind when the then 18-year-old's plane landed in Wellington.
He had flown out here in a bid to get over disappointment of failing to make the Kent Under-19 team, having been encouraged by a couple of Kiwi team-mates at the Blackheath Rugby Club to go enjoy a Kiwi summer and play a bit of club rugby.
Buck Shelford: My picks for semifinals - and why Cheika bashing must stop
A dig at McCaw? Eddie Jones' sneaky shot at All Blacks legend
How the All Blacks are preparing for what happens after extra-time
"I thought I'd do that, go 12,000 miles from home, play some footy and take the slow boat home [afterwards]. That is what I did," Salmon recalled.
Any disappointment about missing an age-grade team in the UK quickly vanished.
After a handful of club games in early 1978 he became a member of the Wellington NPC team. In 1979 he was selected in the Junior All Blacks and the following year he earned All Black status against Fiji at Eden Park; a game which wasn't given test status.
"They [the selectors] said, 'Would you consider playing for the All Blacks?'. I said 'Absolutely, no problem at all'.
"It wasn't exactly a structured plan," Salmon – who was given the nickname "Trout" by his team-mates - laughed.
Salmon described the honour of wearing the black jersey as "unbelievable ... such a huge thing".
He followed up his debut against Fiji with selection on the season-ending 1981 tour of France and Romania, where he played three tests and a further three non-international matches.
"Looking back now I think the selectors showed a lot of guts in doing it [selecting an Englishman]," he said.
"And I don't think the New Zealand public were anti with a Pom getting the spot; I think their attitude was, 'If he is good enough, pick him'.
"People still talk to me as an 'ex-All Black'. I remember meeting Michael Campbell three months after he won the US Open, beating Tiger [Woods] down the stretch, and he said, 'Bloody hell, are you Jamie Salmon the All Black?'. I thought, 'Hold on a minute, that was ages ago and here is the US Open champion ...'."
Salmon played two further seasons in New Zealand, including notching up 64 provincial caps for Wellington; including in the side's 27-19 loss to the 1983 British & Irish Lions.
By season's end he decided it was time to return to England.
"I [had] travelled around New Zealand on planes with the Wellington rep team," he said. "It was wonderful.
"It was a wonderful five or six years in New Zealand and I wouldn't change it for the world. I went out there with the intent to be a better rugby player, but I never thought for one minute that I would be able to achieve what I did."
The next chapter in Salmon's remarkable sporting career came in 1985 when he was selected for England's two-test tour of New Zealand.
He described that selection as "surreal and unbelievably special", but added coming up against former All Black and Wellington teammates had its own challenges.
"It was very special [being selected for England] but in some ways I wish it hadn't happened that way," Salmon said.
"It was [two] years since I had left New Zealand and I found it awkward and tough. I knew a lot of guys in New Zealand team."
Salmon went on to earn 12 test caps for England, including playing at the 1987 Rugby World Cup.
Thirty-two years after his final test, Salmon is now involved in sports management.
He coaches at the Farnham Rugby Union Football Club and, along with UK-based former All Black captain Sean Fitzpatrick, is also a member of the prestigious The Berkshire Golf Club.
"I enjoy beating him [Fitzpatrick] up on the golf course, which is always a joy," Salmon said. "And he grumbles a lot when that happens."
Salmon said he was predicting tonight's All Blacks/England match would be an "epic encounter".
So after playing for both teams in test rugby, who will he be backing?
"It is a question I get asked more than once," Salmon confided.
"And it is a question that many years on it still fills me with a degree of difficulty because New Zealand gave me my first cap which is something one always remembers vividly, but also as is commonly known, I don't exactly have a lot of New Zealand blood in me.
"It is one of those no-win situations."