Mark Ranby is the type of midfield back the injury-hit Manawatu Turbos could have done with this season.
The 2001 All Black has been back in Palmerston North visiting his father, Paul, after his final rugby fling, at Cambridge University in England.
But even had his mind been willing to keep playing, his 32-year-old body wasn't, not after popping a shoulder playing against Loughborough University.
"The shoulder has given me no grief since, but then I haven't been running into people," Ranby said.
He'd previously undergone operations on both shoulders, in 2002-03, by surgeon and former Manawatu lock Steve Walsh in Auckland. That led to him missing two NPC seasons, but he got back to play Super 14 with the Chiefs.
He also got through his two years in Japan unscathed, playing for Coca Cola West Red Sparks in Fukuoka.
"But coming back here and watching, I couldn't get over the pace of the game and the hits," Ranby said. "Did I do that? It's bizarre."
He still remembers with fondness his 1996 season with Manawatu in the second division and two years with the ultimately ill-fated Central Vikings trying to earn promotion.
Like almost every Kiwi player who experiences Japanese rugby, Ranby loved the culture but found their intense training drills didn't make sense. He got to do things many Japanese don't, like tramping, whitewater rafting ...
"Then I decided money wasn't everything."
His time as a professional has set him up financially, anyway. Now he's looking to go teaching, perhaps to work in pastoral care or guidance counselling.
In 1996, he and another former Manawatu All Black, Chresten Davis, went to England with John Hart's New Zealand Barbarians side. Ranby got to play outside Rob Andrew for Mickey Steele-Bodger's XV against Cambridge University.
He stayed in touch with the coach of Cambridge, Tony Rogers, who has held that position for 30 years. That helped Ranby set up a one-year scholarship at Cambridge.
He played in the famous match against Oxford University at Twickenham (lost 29-33) and went to the boat race on the Thames River in Putney.
"That was part of the appeal of going back to where it started. Walking through doorways which have been worn down since the 13th century was pretty amazing."
He studied theology and religious studies after having studied English at Massey University.
Ranby was the sporting dux when he was at Freyberg High School and tries to get back there when he can. Now he's off to a graduates' teachers' college in Christchurch.
"I've always enjoyed working with young people, at schools and coaching."
He got a taste of classroom work during assignments when he was playing for Waikato after leaving Manawatu.
- © Fairfax NZ News