Just days out from his first Rugby World Cup appearance, Richie Mo'unga has revealed there was a fleeting moment when he feared it wouldn't happen.
The All Blacks No.10 has recovered from a worrisome shoulder injury, suffered in the 36-0 thrashing of Australia at Eden Park last month.
Mo'unga has been named to start at first-five against South Africa on Saturday, but he told media on Thursday, the days following the test, he had serious doubts he would even be on the plane to Japan.
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"It was really tough over the next couple of days to move it or do anything, really, Mo'unga said of his AC joint injury.
"I was in a lot of pain - for me to be here, I'm just really grateful and proud of the medical team and rehab that I've done to be in a position to run out for the first game.
"I trusted in what the doctor and physios were saying. They told me I would be sweet, although I didn't feel sweet and thought 'this is going to be tough'.
"I had to trust them and go along with the plan."
The 25-year-old even acknowledged he sought some mental help during his recovery to stay on top of the pressure he was putting on himself to return in time for the tournament.
His All Blacks teammate Liam Squire took time off rugby earlier this year, ruling himself out of the Rugby Championship for personal reasons - a stance that Mo'unga respects. The Christchurch native stressing the importance of mapping out the road full fitness.
"Obviously there are a lot of boys who aren't here who wished they were.
"Being really positive in the way of mental health and making sure you do have a plan if things don't work out was really important.
"I had one of those as well, but thankfully for me, I'm here and I'm really grateful."
The test match at Yokohama will represent the biggest of Mo'unga's fledgeling international career against a Springboks side that has lost just once in three games against the All Blacks.
More than 70,000 fans are expected to pack out the International Stadium, but despite the potential of a red hot atmosphere, Mo'unga is confident he can stay cool.
When you are wearing the No 10 jersey for the All Blacks, it's part of your role," he said. "It's something you have to do and it's something your team needs you to do. For me, it's being as clear as I can with the gameplan and what we're trying to achieve so I can boss the boys around.
"I'll soak it up - I'll be out in the middle of the field thinking 'wow, what an amazing time to be here', but knowing in the back of my head I have a job to do and that the team needs me to do my role well."
Meanwhile, Mo'unga's Crusaders teammate is still pinching himself. Winger George Bridge was just a fringe squad member 12 months ago, but a stellar Super Rugby campaign and two tremendous performances for the All Blacks has seen the 24-year-old leapfrog Reiko Ioane for the No.11 jersey.
Bridge will partner with Sevu Reece who's on an equally rapid rise to international prominence.
"We just took a wee moment and thought 'we're at a World Cup," Bridge said.
"It's pretty crazy that we're here. We're both really excited and happy to get a good opportunity this weekend to kick things off."
Join Newshub for live updates of the All Blacks v South Africa from 9:45pm Saturday.