was given access to the New Zealand Under-20s as they prepared for Wednesday's final hit-out against the Chiefs development squad in Mt Maunganui.
There was little in the way of downtime for these young "professionals", who don't get paid but prepare like the All Blacks. It was interesting to observe how relaxed and yet focused they appeared to be. Their hotel was the plush Oceanside Resort, a short punt from the beach and in the shadow of Mt Maunganui. It seemed the ideal place to put their structures and plans in place, away from the madding crowds and media of Auckland.
Breakfast, but that's more for management, so few of the side make it to the team room unless they are habitual early risers. Know many 19-year-olds who are early risers?
Trainer Iain Cleland, who looks young enough and is certainly fit enough to play, puts the team through some gentle stretching routines by the beach. It is a beautiful, crisp Bay of Plenty morning. Assistant coach Scott Robertson, who grew up here, says it's like this every day.
The forwards and backs split for clarity meetings. That means the forwards put out two lineouts with their two hookers Hame Faiva and James O'Reilly working on their throwing and calls, which apparently need some attention. They have to practise by the surf club toilets, as that is the only flat space around. The big boys finish with a short chant and clap, in unison.
The backs obviously have clarity, as they run through a relaxed game of walk touch.
Coach Chris Boyd says the issue of Robertson breakdancing and raising the Cantab flag in the centre of Westpac Stadium after the 2013 ITM Cup final has not been raised ... perhaps they are saving that for the September 12 rematch. Not sure how "Razor" can breakdance when his knee makes a sound like a graunching gear. Leon MacDonald contemplates a run up the Mount with campaign manager Mike Anthony. These guys are keen.
The boys hoe into the pre-match meal in their team room. There is plenty of grub and it's not all carbs. You'll find a lot of protein too among the skinless chicken, beans and eggs. For most, this is their first meal of the day, so seconds are not frowned upon. These are growing lads, after all.
The mood is relaxed but one of quiet reflection about what they have to do in a few hours.
Some players fill in their questionnaire on the game day assessment sheet, what their goals are for the game and how they measure them. Others float off to their rooms to chill out, while some file into the medical room for strapping or a yarn.
The medical room, just off the team room, seems full. Not with people, it must be said, but with Powerade, medicines and enough strapping to make a full team of Egyptian mummies. Doctor Lynne Coleman explains her preventive approaches to avoid a full-blown virus, which would surely be her worst fear. She hammers home the importance of good, regular, hygiene practices to keep everyone healthy.
Apparently eight of the boys were drug-tested during their previous camp, and there will be random testing through the tournament. Physio Jo Chivers is in good humour. We'll see what he's like on June 20 when he has to work around the clock to get these guys on to the field.
Pinned to the team room wall are all sorts of data, including the squad's hydration levels.
Lock Troy Callander, the sole BoP boy in the team, seems a bit of a character: "Mine [levels] never seem any good. Must be because I'm so tall."
Also on the team room wall is a profound quote: "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
I meet prop Tau Koloamatangi, good bloke, one of five out of the Waikato University club. He is looking forward to facing his cousin Tevita, who is flanker for the Chiefs Development XV. Another prop, "DJ" Atu Moli, cranks up the sounds.
Team meeting. Classified, so I sit this one out.
Headphones on, water and Powerade bottles at the ready. The team mini-vans make the five-minute trip to Blake Park, the sporting hub of the Mount. A remix of Tears for Fears' Everybody Wants to Rule the World is on. Apt.
The team mingles with some of the young Rippa Rugby, signing autographs happily often down on their knees so the youngsters don't have to rick their necks to see them and posing for photos. Not that all the guys are well-known to the kids.
"What's your name?" asks one lad to front-rower Sam Thomas, in as cover. He might know him well in a few years.
"At least you boys get to practise your signatures," says one parent, helpfully.
They remember Robertson here, so he signs too. His photo hangs in the clubhouse. Some of the team greet their opponents, a few of whom trialled for this side. There won't be such fraternisation before the Samoa game on Monday, the JWC opening day.
Anton Lienert-Brown is captain for the day. He is first on to Sir Gordon Tietjens Field, throwing the ball in the air and listening to his favourite sounds. The warm-up builds as Cleland takes over the drills.
The team runs out in their green strip.
Simon Hickey watches the game with attack coach Leon MacDonald. The coaching staff is mostly subdued, just two rows behind me.
By fulltime, they have won 47-19, in mostly impressive style.
The crowd of close to 1000, not bad for a working day, appreciates what they have seen.
The group, tired but happy and some strapped with ice, file up to the low-key after-match. There is quiet satisfaction at a job well done, but much more to accomplish over the next three weeks. The protein shakes are out and there is not a beer in sight. That can wait until June 20. There is more high energy food, though. This team loves to eat. Analyst Doug Neilson has already swung into action, coding the game so the boys can break it down.
On the return to the hotel, it is time for Tupac's Changes.
There is just "colds" at the hot pools, as it were, just across the road. That's the way it is after a full contact game. No "hots" or you will increase any inflammation. Just five minutes is all that's needed, so they file back to the team room for some chilling.
Dinner. More food.
Time for post-game reviews. Almost all these young men know their way around a computer, so it is not a protracted affair.
State of Origin.
To sleep, perchance to dream of glory.
The team travelled up to Auckland yesterday where they will be based for the JWC. The IRB will pick up the accommodation and food tab. Not sure if they also pick up the strapping tab.