Neemia Tialata has become the All Blacks' Twitter King. Off the field, the big tighthead has been busier than normal since the side left for their end-of-year tour.
An iPhone is never far from his giant hands in what has become a creative release for the Wellington artist cum professional rugby player.
What started as a directive from the Wellington Rugby Union has become a passion of sorts as Tialata connects with what he has dubbed his Twitter Nation.
"It's pretty cool. It gives an insight to people out there following the ABs, direct stuff that they won't see in the news," the 27-year-old said from the team's Milan hotel.
"It's stuff about the boys, what we're up to. It's a bit of fun, not too serious."
Tialata can post video clips, audio and interviews and says he takes his iPhone everywhere, including the team changing room after tests, and to training.
"It's all from my phone. It's pretty cool. I just download the application and put it up on my Twitter page. I did an interview yesterday after training with Wyatt Crockett and Mike Cron about our scrum, stuff like that."
Tialata's not the only All Black with a Twitter page and a rivalry of sorts has developed with team-mate Cory Jane. "Because CJ is a back and things, he's all that," Tialata laughed.
"So we're seeing how many Tweeters we get and at the moment he's only got 250 and I've got 312.
"Yeah, all the boys are calling me the Twitter King. I don't mind it because I've named CJ the Twitter Kid."
Tialata's page, at twitter.com/neyza3, shares everything from the funny – "Paying mr Carter his 250 euros for the bet we made wellington vs canterbury ... damn it!!!!" – to the mundane. "Good afternoon peps. Just had my lil siesta now I'm fully charged to go for walk around Milan."
It's a strangely fun way to interact with an All Black and it's not hard to see why the trend has exploded globally. Springboks Victor Matfield, Morne Steyn, Oz du Randt, Bob Skinstad and John Smit are all on Twitter, while in America most sports stars have sites.
One sight Tialata is desperate to see while he's in Italy is Leonardo da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper, which hangs in the dining hall of Milan's Santa Maria delle Grazie.
It hasn't proved as simple as a tweet.
"We tried to visit it yesterday and it took about half an hour on the train to get there and when we got there we were told it was booked out till December," he said.
"Hopefully we can get back there before we go and someone can get us in, but I'm not sure."
A new-found love of the internet – he wasn't a big fan after a private Facebook conversation hit the news last month – and soaking up the culture of Milan aren't the only things Tialata is smiling about.
Last weekend against Wales he did something that earlier in the year seemed he might never achieve again. He played a full 80 minutes at Millennium Stadium, reward for the rigid fitness regime he embarked on after being dropped by the All Blacks selectors in July. "I just upped the tempo really and I've done other stuff other than just the straight running fitness," he said.
"I've been boxing, stuff like that, and when I get the chance in team runs I've been really pushing hard."
Tialata's lost weight is evident in his physique and it's showed in his performance around the field in the All Blacks' last two tests. Against Italy he will be the senior member of a young tight five, his 39 test caps nearly double the total of Wyatt Crockett, Corey Flynn, Tom Donnelly and Anthony Boric combined.
The All Blacks trainers often hold Tialata back at training to protect his chronic knee problem, but his workload is increasing each week.
"The test in Wellington I said my knees were fine and the trainers and the coaches have just backed me.
"That was a big focus for me coming back [after being dropped], that I was not going to take things lightly towards my training because I had just cruised a bit. I want to stamp my mark in this jersey and on world rugby."
AT A GLANCE
Name: Neemiah Stanley Tialata
Nicknames: Neyza, Twitter King
Born: Lower Hutt
Educated: Parkway College, Wellington College
Tests: 39 (debut, v Wales at Cardiff, 2005)
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