Chalk one up for old-fashioned hard work and perseverance.
All Blacks lock Jeremy Thrush won't be the most fancied or high profile player on the team-sheet when he runs on to Forysth Barr Stadium against Australia tomorrow night.
He won't be the tallest lock and probably not the quickest, but the 28-year-old might just be the hungriest and most determined.
Thrush has had just 23 minutes of test rugby since being whistled up for an injured Brodie Retallick against France back in June.
And two weeks ago he was forced to sit through the entire 80 minutes of the epic test in Johannesburg without leaving the reserves bench.
Thrush was understated yesterday as he talked about his first Bledisloe Cup test, but there was a simmering determination.
His Wellington coach Chris Boyd has seen it build relentlessly since the end of last year's NPC campaign when his provincial captain spurned some big overseas offers to chase his dream.
"Jeremy's got two massive things, he's got a massive heart and a massive motor," Boyd said yesterday.
"This year I have watched Thrushy come to academy trainings, high performance schools trainings at 6am, he came to every extra session going because he decided this was the last throw of the dice and he didn't want to leave one stone unturned.
"He trained like that from the end of the ITM Cup last year. He trained his arse off."
Thrush had been close to the All Blacks before, but when he sniffed a real chance Boyd says he became one of the most single-minded players he's seen.
"The moment they dangled the possibility of the All Blacks he just parked any opportunity he had overseas. He didn't care if it cost him half a million dollars, his goal was always to play for the All Blacks.
"His purpose for playing rugby has never been clouded. It's always been enjoying himself, enjoying the contest and being the best he could. The money has always been secondary ... he has a true north about what's important to him and what isn't."
It's that sort of character that convinced All Black coach Steve Hansen to chuck Thrush one of the low numbers this week.
"We've felt he's made some really good cameos off the bench and he's done well and it's time for us to find out a little bit more about Jeremy," Hansen said.
"The only way we can do that is by starting him and giving him an opportunity.
"Some people take longer than others to become comfortable in the jersey. It's not all about one game, it's about what we do see and what we can see in the future.
"He's earned the right to have a crack."
Thrush admits he's living his dream, but he doesn't want it to end on Saturday and will know a big match should be enough to book a place in the end-of-year tour squad to be named on Sunday.
Though he doesn't plan to copy Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick, Thrush said he wouldn't be straying far from the job description the pair had carried out so well.
He's not the only All Black brimming with enthusiasm despite the long haul of the Rugby Championship and the associated travel factor.
Hooker Keven Mealamu, with 108 caps, will be making his first test start of 2013. Though it had been "different" having so little game time, he was feeling fresh as a result.
Hansen expects a fast game from Australia and said Mealamu suited that style more than Andrew Hore, who had done an excellent job in South Africa.
Thrush, Mealamu and wing Cory Jane, who returns from injury, add energy, drive and enthusiasm at the back end of the season, while Tom Taylor covers the midfield.
The All Blacks assembled later than last year in a bid to give the players more time to recover than when they tripped up with an 18-all draw with the Wallabies after coming home from Argentina and South Africa.
Hansen, like Thrush, has left no stone unturned to get to this point.
- © Fairfax NZ News