When Geordan Murphy returns to the scene of the most crucial phase of his rugby education, he hopes it will be as part of a British & Irish Lions Test team on the brink of a series victory over the All Blacks.
Ireland’s supremely gifted full-back spent six months at Auckland Grammar as a raw 16-year-old on a schools exchange programme, learning an invaluable lesson on his journey to becoming a Lion.
Little over a decade later Murphy will return to the city as part of Sir Clive Woodward’s 44-strong squad and he credits his time in Auckland for playing a major role in his development.
"New Zealand is hugely responsible for where I am in rugby today. Before I went there rugby was just a past-time, but that soon changed once I had arrived and their attitude began to rub off on me," he said.
"Rugby is a religion to them with everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, talking about at every available opportunity.
"I loved being in the country and my time there instilled into me how much the sport means. It really helped me with my game."
The Lions are based in Auckland for the last two assignments of the 11-match tour, with the city’s NPC club providing the opposition on Tuesday, July 5 while the third and final Test completes the schedule four days later.
With the Test series against the All Blacks sure to go down to the wire, Eden Park could provide the stage for the current squad to join the class of 1971 in becoming the only Lions party to triumph in New Zealand.
It is an enormous challenge for Woodward’s men, but Murphy reckons there is sufficient talent in the tourists’ squad to dethrone the mighty All Blacks in their own back yard.
"I think we’ll be good enough to win in New Zealand. The All Blacks have a tremendous side who are in great form – they are probably the best side in the world at the moment and beating them is going to be a huge ask," he said.
"But looking through the Lions squad, we have an awful lot of talent too – guys like Brian O’Driscoll, Jason Robinson and Martin Corry are all world class. If the belief is there as well, we have a great chance of winning."