A decade after his exit from the All Blacks, Carl Hayman is about to resume ties with New Zealand rugby by putting his big frame to work at the Brisbane Global Tens next month.
The 38-year-old, considered the world's best tighthead prop in his day, is in the early stages of his coaching career in France, working under fellow former All Black Simon Mannix as Pau's forwards coach.
Hayman completed his coaching papers at Toulon and retired from professional rugby in 2015, taking a year off to travel and refresh. Overseeing Pau's forward pack since, he still finds time to lace up the boots and slot in at lock — yes, lock — for a federal 3 team, New Zealand's equivalent of club rugby, just for the love of the game.
"I've enjoyed it. It's been good to go back to the grassroots where it all started," Hayman tells the Herald on Sunday. "Whether it's France or New Zealand, rugby clubs are similar world-wide. Often in the professional scene you lose sight of that so it has been quite refreshing and good to strap the boots on again.
"When I finished at the pro level I'd had enough physically but probably more mentally. I still like to keep myself in reasonable shape so why not? It's been a really good experience."
Hayman lifts Pau's former All Blacks contingent to eight, with Conrad Smith, Tom Taylor, Colin Slade, Benson Stanley, Frank Halai and Jamie MacKintosh also making the trek.
From Taranaki, Hayman played more than 80 games for the Highlanders and spoke to new coach Aaron Mauger this week to plan a catch up in Brisbane.
Other former All Blacks teammates Tana Umaga and Scott Robertson will be in their respective coaching boxes, too.
"It will be interesting playing against the Highlanders — I think they're in our pool. I still remember the southern man song so I might have to give it a rendition."
Suggest to Mannix that Hayman may have a difficult time chasing around the likes of Julian Savea in the heat and he has a different theory.
"He's in great shape," Mannix said. "I think Carl could be a shock to the system for all the young guys who know Carl Hayman but have never played the legend."
The transition to coaching has been a learning curve for Hayman, specifically the workload involved, but he is enjoying and committed to the project at Pau, an ambitious club Mannix has led to promotion to the Top 14. The region now has a new stadium, and Hayman compares the community feel to New Plymouth.
Hayman has shares in a farm near Opunake but two of his three children are attending school and he is amazed at how quickly they have picked up the French language.
From a coaching perspective, he appreciates the vast opportunities in Europe compared to New Zealand's five Super Rugby franchises.
Although in no rush to jump into a head coaching role, he has been chipping away at the French Rugby Federation management papers.
"I'm not saying you could jump into one of those jobs straight away but there's a bit of movement over here and things do come up.
"Eventually, one day, I'll come back home but when that is I'm not too sure. I've got no real fixed plans. It's just a matter of when that time is right."
Naturally, Hayman keeps a close eye on the All Blacks, making the effort along with a host of other French-based Kiwis to meet the team in Paris on the end of year tour, spending time with set piece guru Mike Cron and Pete Gallagher, his physio from the Highlanders.
"It's been pretty outstanding, really, what they've been able to achieve.
"I know they've had a few blips along the way but to keep the consistency and level of play as high as they have for as long as they have is a credit to the players and coaching staff."
Next month, he gets to pit himself against past, present and future All Blacks, one last time.
Pau's Brisbane Tens squad:
Conrad Smith, Colin Slade, Carl Hayman, Ben Mowen, Steffon Armitage, Tom Taylor, Lourens Adriaanse, Frank Halai, Jamie Mackintosh, Ignacio Calles, Lucas Rey Quentin Lespiauq, Jeremy Hurou, Daniel Ramsay, Giovanni Habel Kuffner, Pierrick Gunther, Baptiste Pesenti, Martin Puech, Thibault Daubagna, Clovis Lebail, Bastien Pourailly, Brandon Fajardo, Mathias Colombet, Watisoni Votu, Florian Nicot.