Your first week in an All Blacks camp can be a daunting experience for any international newcomer.
From the moment you set foot into the squad’s hotel lobby right through to stepping onto the field for your test debut, there is plenty to take in as you learn the ins and outs of touring with rugby’s most famous side.
That’s certainly how veteran Blues hooker James Parsons felt when he was called up to the All Blacks for the first time in place of the injured Nathan Harris during their end-of-year tour in 2014.
Parsons, who was in the United Kingdom as part of a Barbarians team that played the Wallabies, came into Steve Hansen’s squad alongside fellow Kiwi and Barbarians teammate Colin Slade, who took the place of Cory Jane, ahead of a clash against England in London.
It was there where the 33-year-old got his first taste of the traditions that come with touring with the All Blacks, which extends to how players travel on the team’s bus.
Speaking to the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, Parsons explained that part of the tradition is the All Blacks’ use of a ‘buddy’ system, whereby one player pairs up with another player to make sure their buddy is on the team bus so that nobody gets left behind.
In his first week in the national set-up, Parsons said he was paired up with former All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, whose leadership qualities he said he admired due to the way that it helped him ease into the new environment.
Parsons said McCaw’s leadership attributes were no more evident than during his first week with the All Blacks, where his role as the 148-test flanker’s buddy didn’t go according to plan.
“I remember coming down – this is my first week in the team – coming down the escalator behind Richie, and obviously he got stopped by fans,” Parsons told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod. “I jumped on the bus and was like, ‘Oh, well he’s here, that’s great’.
“We got to the training ground, and everyone’s like ‘Where’s Ricco [McCaw]’, and I was like ‘Oh nah, he’s here, I came down with him’, and they were like, ‘Mate, he’s not on the bus, that’s your one job’.
“Kieran Read was like, ‘Oh mate, you’ve left the skipper at the hotel’, and this was like day two, so I’m just petrified.
“Five minutes later, Richie comes running around the corner. He’d run from the hotel to the training ground and he was like, ‘Nah mate, that’s terrible from me, I should have just got on the bus’.
“I was like, ‘I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry’, and he was like, ‘Nah, nah, nah, it’s all on me’.
“Just little things like that. He’s so approachable, for a guy that I had so much respect for, so easy to talk to, but he would always take the responsibility on his shoulders to make my week easy, and I think that’s one of the biggest things I learned out of that tour from a rugby aspect.”
Ex-All Blacks great Dan Carter has named a former Springboks loose forward as the "toughest-minded" player he's ever faced.https://t.co/l6kshIHQap
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 25, 2020
Another tradition that has become firmly steeped in All Blacks culture is the hierarchical seating system that is used to determine where on the bus players sit.
As has been the case for decades, where players are seated on the bus – as it travels between hotels, training grounds, stadiums, airports and other locations – is sorted by how many caps each player has.
The more experienced a player is, the further down the bus they will sit, whereas newer or less experienced members of the team are consigned to seats at the front.
A seat down the end of the bus can only be earned through experience, and it’s seen as a rite of passage to work your way down the bus over the course of time.
With two test caps to his name, neither Parsons, nor one-test All Blacks first-five Josh Ioane, have had the privilege of taking their place deep in the inner sanctums of the All Blacks bus.
Instead, both players have been forced to stay at the front of the bus during their times in the national squad.
That long-standing tradition has presented its challenges for Parsons and Ioane, both of whom told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod of experiences where they have opted to sit on the floor when the front seats have been filled rather than break tradition to vacate a spot near the back.
“The bus is a funny one,” Ioane, who made his All Blacks debut in a World Cup warm-up fixture against Tonga last year, said.
“You get on the bus, you’re a new boy, and there’s no seats at the front of the bus, and you’re like, ‘I’m not going down the back of the bus’, so I just sat down by the stairs, you know when you walk up the bus by the bus driver?
“I just sit down on the stairs by the bus driver because there’s no way I’m walking to the back.”
Parsons was forced to endure similar treatment during the same time week he misguidedly accounted for McCaw on the bus.
“No jokes, I had to do the same thing. I got on late, and your heart drops as soon as you walk through the door,” he said.
“You’re like, ‘Oh my god, this is terrible’, and I literally just looked around and no one moved, and I was just like, ‘Oh well’, and then I just sat in the stairs like this little kid.”
He added that he learned quickly from the experience, which he said left him “so embarrassed”.
“I remember Steve [Hansen] just looking at me like, ‘You’re a 26-year-old sitting on bus stairs’. I didn’t even have the excuse of like, ‘I’m 19’, or something. I’ve been around a long time. I was just like, ‘This is so demoralising’,” Parsons said.
“No one said nothing. I was just so embarrassed. We didn’t even have far to go. Most of the time we’d walk to where we were going, but we were in the middle of London, and it was, I think, my first or second day.
“Kevvy [Keven Mealamu] said to me afterwards, ‘Mate, any chance you get, just get to that bus as quick as you possibly can’.”
Listen to the full episode of Aotearoa Rugby Pod below:
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