Adam Hill knows a thing or two about getting back on the horse.
In another life the Hurricanes blindside flanker wore spurs and a cowboy hat rather than sprigs and a scrum cap.
In fact, Hill was a regular on the South Island Christmas circuit as a teenager looking for a break from the solitude and mateship of the Otago high country.
It's bred a hardness into the 27-year-old that has caught the eye of Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett, so much so that Hill has been elevated from the wider training group into the starting XV.
"I dabbled in rodeo when I was farming, did a bit of bull riding," Hill explained yesterday after being named to start against the Brumbies tomorrow night. "When I first started working on the high country stations a lot of the single shepherds were all chasing it around. It was the thing to do.
"It's probably harder on the body than rugby, but it's great fun . . . probably the worst is going over the front of a bull, then getting run over by it."
There's a touch of the cowboy about Hill and not just the moustache he has had to go grow over the past two weeks due to his rookie status in South Africa.
He was sinbinned one minute into his Super Rugby debut after coming off the bench against the Sharks in Durban for a slightly reckless cleanout.
And during last season's national provincial championship, he was red-carded for stomping while playing for Wellington against Canterbury.
Aside from being a tad regretful, Hill's not the dramatic type.
"I was obviously pretty gutted with that. I was thrilled to get my first cap, but it was one of those situations where it was the referee's interpretation, and I got myself into a bad situation. It's something I'm looking forward to putting right this week."
Born in Gore and raised in the small town of Waikaka an hour south of Dunedin, he has spent a chunk of his life on the family sheep and beef farm and still pines for the high country stations where he worked as a teenager.
The farm and the rodeo circuit beckoned until he "got a sniff" of a rugby career with his selection in the Otago side in 2011 making 14 appearances over two seasons.
"When I first left school I went straight into farming because that's the background I come from," he said. "When I got a sniff with Otago that was fuel to the fire, and I've been lucky with the opportunities up here [Wellington]."
After an off-season stint in Hong Kong with the DEA Tigers club, Hill ended up in Wellington where his partner had a job. After landing a job with the Institute of Sport as a special projects co-ordinator he settled in as a regular starter for the Lions.
"Hilly has a huge work ethic and he's been with us the whole time in Africa. He has that height and he is a player people trust around him," Hammett offered when asked about his selection.
Hill's promotion from the wider training group has been a much talked about subject around Wellington as he has edged ahead of local favourite and All Blacks apprentice Ardie Savea.
It's a subject highlighted by the fact that Hill's style is in many ways the antithesis of Savea, who isn't seen as an option on the blindside.
And so Hill's height and grinding, body on the line style gets the nod while Brad Shields, Victor Vito and Faifili Levave recover from injury.
The cowboy doesn't care how he got his opportunity, or why. He just wants to saddle up, put his yellow card in Durban behind him and prove he's worthy.
- Fairfax Media
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