Former All Black Mils Muliaina, son Max, 4, and their family are back in New Zealand from Japan to visit family. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Former All Black Mils Muliaina, son Max, 4, and their family are back in New Zealand from Japan to visit family. Photo / Sarah Ivey Sarah Ivey

Where have you been? - Mils Muliaina

HE'S just got in after a 10-hour flight from Tokyo and his wife and son are just behind him, stuck in customs.

Mils Muliaina parks his luggage trolley at arrivals, obliging a lengthening line of exuberant Japanese who want their photo taken with the fullback. Aside from a splint on a dislocated finger, the 32-year-old looks ready to take on the Boks.

What a player he's been. But you'd embarrass him if you were to genuflect, or talk about his place in the pantheon of great All Black fullbacks, especially if you reminded him that he played more tests - exactly 100 - than any of those legends, and never had a bad game (at least not one anyone can remember).

He lives in the moment. And for now, that's Osaka, Japan. Mils plays for NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes in the Top League. He's loving it, especially the food.

"Everyone thinks Japan is sushi, but it's everything. They basically take food from other countries and make it better. Apart from hangi food - I haven't seen any hangi food over there."

It's not all feasting, of course. Mils is there to play rugby and although the Red Hurricanes are performing poorly - they've lost their last 19 games - he's enjoying himself.

"Playing in Japan gives you the ability to do whatever you want, really. I'm playing in the centres, though I'm bigger than most of the props. Honestly, I'm not lying! The boys over there are like, 'Man, you're so big'.

"But while they're small, they never stop running. They're tenacious. And brave - they tackle really low."

Their attitude, he says, can't be faulted. "But it's kinda odd when they start talking about players you've played with - players they idolise.

"They've got the pictures on their phones. They're always watching YouTube. We'll be on the bus and they'll be watching the Tri-Nations on their tablets. Watching Dan's 'greatest hits'."

Mils laughs. Now he's joined by wife Hayley and 4-year-old son, Max, a probable selection in the All Blacks 2031 World Cup squad.

They're off to Invercargill, his old home-town - he still rolls his Rs - to see the Muliaina whanau, then returning to Auckland to see Hayley's family. Then it's back to Japan - and back to rugby.

"Life is good," he says, smiling. "Different. But good."


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