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An­ton Oliver had been the All Blacks cap­tain be­tween 2000 and 2001 – a job he took after be­com­ing a reg­u­lar starter in 1998. An abra­sive and dam­ag­ing hooker, he was a cere­bral char­ac­ter with the re­spect of those with whom he played.

But it was clear that when new coach John Mitchell ar­rived in late 2001, he wasn't such a big fan. He shifted the cap­taincy to Reuben Thorne, but kept Oliver in the squad.

Un­til the mid­dle of 2003 that was – and then he dropped him. When Gra­ham Henry took over in 2004, he made it clear to Oliver that he didn't see things any di er­ently.

Oliver had been in­vited to play for the Bar­bar­ians in Lon­don in June 2004 – but the fix­ture would clash with the All Blacks trial. He spoke with Henry who told him to ac­cept the in­vi­ta­tion as he was the fourth-choice hooker.

Un­wanted, Oliver de­cided in Au­gust 2004 that he was over pro­fes­sional rugby and started seek­ing ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties in the UK.

He had no con­tract for 2005 and when Otago were knocked out of the NPC he made his farewell speeches.

But amaz­ingly, while he had checked out men­tally, the All Blacks coaches thought he had de­liv­ered the sort of form they were after. They wanted him back and so they per­suaded Oliver to re­con­sider his plans, to sign with the High­landers and com­mit his fu­ture to play­ing rugby in New Zealand.

Which he did and which is why, hav­ing be­lieved his ca­reer was over, he was un­usu­ally emo­tional when he was pre­sented with his All Blacks jersey be­fore his come­back test against Italy in Novem­ber 2004.

“Then it starts and I can’t — and re­alise I don’t wish to — stop it,” he wrote in his book. “I start to cry. I drape the jersey over my head and find my­self lean­ing for­ward, hold­ing my head in my hands with the jersey catch­ing the fall­ing tears. The sobs are un­con­trol­lable. I’m not sure why I’m cry­ing. I’m 29 years old, it is the first time I’ve cried in front of grown men.”

LOST CAUSE An­ton Oliver had emo­tion­ally checked out of pro­fes­sional rugby when he was re­called by the All Blacks in 2004.

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