Not so glamorous life for travelling All Blacks
LIAM NAPIER IN BUENOS AIRES
From the outside it seems the life of a professional rugby player is rather glamorous.
Fame, fortune and all the trimmings right? The reality, though, is quite different.
While others around the same age are backpacking exotic locations, meeting new people, having new experiences and immersing themselves in foreign cultures, the All Blacks' success is based on strict routine.
Their time in Argentina is for business, not pleasure.
Airports, hotels and training fields - this is predominantly their working life.
All the finer details are mapped out by management. Nutrition, exercise, right down to the optional afternoon nap - no longer than 30 minutes to avoid jetlag and sleepless nights. Wednesday is their one day off a week.
With such a natural focus on performance and professionalism, there is minimal time to get a gauge of foreign locations, let alone socialise with locals or replicate any of the antics their predecessors indulged in during the amateur era.
In many ways the modern-age athlete's perspective is a bit of a tease.
"I was on Google this morning to find out a few little facts about the place," All Blacks first five-eighth Tom Taylor said today.
This is part of the reason so many are requesting sabbaticals.
Sure, the chance to play abroad and top-up their income is a lure, but increasingly players are choosing to follow Richie McCaw's lead and take time out to explore, refresh and, in essence, move out of the limelight.
Senior centre Conrad Smith will do the same after the Rugby Championship, and there are sure to be more who want to take a temporary step back in the not-too-distant future.
"I was talking to Conrad this morning," the 24-year-old Taylor said.
"It's a bit different when you're on a rugby trip, you don't really get the chance to see a place but it is nice to be here. One day I'll come back and search it a bit more."
Still, representing your country is a privilege and most players are doing what they love. And with $7500 per-week in each player's back pocket it could be worse.
The rest of this week in Buenos Aires will be dominated by team meetings and training as the build-up to Sunday's clash with the Pumas intensifies.
But this morning the All Blacks enjoyed their surroundings with a stroll past influential statues and through local markets to La Recoleta Cemetery, where former Argentine first lady and actress Eva Peron is buried along with other famous figures.
"It's certainly something different to back home," All Blacks playmaker Beauden Barrett, who grew up on a farm in Taranaki, said.
"It would be quite expensive to own one of those properties but not one to look into for me in the future."
Even in the Argentinean capital, where rugby is overshadowed by football and basketball, experienced All Blacks are stopped and asked to pose for photos.
Locals at cafes give the thumbs up and say "No 1 in the world" as the squad ambles past. The same was true in Rome last year.
"I found that surprising being a huge soccer country," Barrett said.
"They recognise the big guns like Richie and Keven Mealamu."
It's a sign of the growing global game but also the pulling power of the All Blacks.
"I wasn't expecting that to be honest, even at the airport there were a few people greeting us, knowing your name and things like that," Taylor said.
"It's quite surreal but the All Blacks are an interesting brand."
A brand and, indeed, aura, that is enhanced by winning.
- Fairfax Media
Which three first-fives would you have taken on the All Blacks' northern tour?