Wales and New Zealand are often cited as the two most similar rugby cultures in the world. It is no wonder, therefore, Rico Gear enjoys playing in the Principality.
The Worcester wing gets the opportunity once again this weekend as Warriors travel to Liberty Stadium in Swansea to take on reigning EDF Energy Cup holders Ospreys in a match that will go a long way to deciding which team progresses in this year’s competition.
With injuries to Marcel Garvey and Miles Benjamin, Gear is almost certain to be pressed into service despite visible and severe bruising which runs the length of his left thigh – courtesy of an abductor strain which he picked up two weeks ago in the European Challenge Cup.
Those concerns will be pushed to the back of his mind on Sunday, however, as the 30-year-old returns to the land of his greatest triumph when as world renowned All Black he scored a hat-trick in the touring side that smashed Wales 41-3 on their own patch.
Shane Williams, the man charged with marking Gear at the Millennium Stadium that day, will line up opposite him for the Ospreys no doubt intent on doing a slightly better job of it this time.
“I guess it was the high point of my career,” Gear says. “Wales is a special place to play rugby. I always enjoy going back because there are a lot of similarities in the passion and the way everyone is interested in the game.”
But this is a different Gear. The same fluid running style and willingness to come into the line is there but the New Zealander has been slowed by a succession of niggling injuries ever since he arrived at Sixways slightly less than a year ago. “I probably haven’t ever played 100 per cent fit in the year I have been here,” he says. “I was probably getting there in the pre-season games when I was feeling really good with a decent conditioning base only for the Achilles problem to come.
“It’s been a bit frustrating because I have not been able to perform how I know I can perform but it’s a long year and there is plenty of time to get it right.”
His latest comeback is just two matches old, in the first of those he strained his upper thigh playing against Petrarca. He carried the condition into last Saturday’s Challenge Cup win over Bucuresti and suggested he is edging his way back with two of his side’s seven tries. A repeat performance of November 2005 would be very welcome.