He said once of his teenage stint Down Under: "Four of us ended up at Auckland Grammar and it was amazing. Rugby really is a religion in New Zealand. I remember that, every day after school, the changing rooms would be crammed with kids who were all ultra-serious. Instead of thinking they should lighten up I became ultra-serious myself. I wanted to fit in but I also got a real kick out of it. The sheer intensity improved my rugby massively."
Scrum half Peter Stringer feeds a pass out to his backline during the session in Auckland. The Munster pivot rates his direct opponent Byron Kelleher highly.
Before Ireland's clash with the All Blacks at Lansdowne Road in 2001, Stringer said of Kelleher: "He's tough, very tough. He's typically very physical and likes to take it on around the fringes. I expect to be involed a lot in and around that channel." Five years on and little has changed.
Leinster team mates Shane Horgan and Keith Gleeson in action in Auckland. Horgan has fond memories of his first Test match against New Zealand in Dublin in November 2001. The 27-year-old emerged with much credit from the game despite the 40-29 victory for the visitors. He marshalled Jonah Lomu superbly until the giant winger cut loose in the closing stages to help the Kiwis overhaul Ireland.
Then coached by Warren Gatland, the Irish moved 21-7 clear early in the second half thanks to a Denis Hickie try but the hosts could not hold on.
Ireland forwards coach Niall O'Donovan, team doctor Gary O'Driscoll and head coach Eddie O'Sullivan are pictured in a jovial mood at training.
Saturday's first Test will be O'Sullivan's 55th game in charge of Ireland. During his reign, the men in green have won 38 Tests and lost 16 (70.37% success rate).
Neil Best's rewarding for an eye-catching and highly productive season with Ulster is a start against the All Blacks in Hamilton on Saturday. The Belfast-born flanker scored four tries in 19 Celtic League appearances this season, as well as two touch downs in 6 Heineken Cup games.
Isaac Boss, who could make his Ireland off the bench on his 'old home ground' of the Waikato Stadium on Saturday, flings a pass out at training. The Tokoroa-born scrum half has been listed amongst the replacements and should Peter Stringer not play the full 80 minutes, he will be brought on to face some of his former team mates.
Neil Best gets set for some tackle bag practice in Auckland.
The Belfast Harlequins clubman scored a try on his last outing for Ireland - he touched down in the 43-12 triumph over Romania last November.
**All photos by Billy Stickland of Inpho Photography**