TOKYO, 23 Oct - With a smile, a ring of confidence and throwback locks that fly when he is barrelling through opposition defences, Jack Goodhue has turned himself into such a cult figure of New Zealand rugby that even the nation's prime minister seems to have joined his fan club.
"And that's a brilliant win ... for the All Blacks and mullets everywhere," pronounced Jacinda Ardern on Instagram after New Zealand had booked their semi-final place against England with the statement triumph over Ireland. Her post was accompanied by a photo of Goodhue, sporting that 1980s hairstyle which, according to him, powers his 21st century athletic gift.
"I'm not getting rid of the mullet. There's scientific evidence that shows it makes me faster. It was done at Harvard I think," he grinned on the eve of the Ireland match before producing a performance that perhaps proved the US academics right.
It was not rocket science to recognise again why the 24-year-old Goodhue, part of the youthful Super Rugby-winning Crusaders backline who have been so dazzling for the All Blacks here, ought to be the centre of attention for years to come.
His team-mates all clearly love the bloke who has a cocky, but not arrogant, streak. During press conferences here in Japan, Sonny Bill Williams has enjoyed telling everyone that Jack's the best player in the world - or at least, that is what Jack tells him - while assistant coach Ian Foster has ruffled the famed mullet while congratulating Goodhue for getting rid of his "stupid" moustache.
"I can't win in this team," retorts Goodhue with mock indignation, giving the impression of a cheery customer who is sure to keep up team spirits over a long tournament.
Goodhue is not just a real character and a midfield player of rare talent but also a man of substance who, off the field, embodies the old-fashioned values that New Zealanders like to think their All Blacks ought to possess - humility and a grounded, caring nature.
A committed Christian who found religion at 16 after he and his schoolmate in Auckland went to hear the US evangelist Greg Laurie speak, Goodhue used to work for the Salvation Army. These days he volunteers for Big Brothers Big Sisters of New Zealand, a mentoring programme in which he takes time out every week to act as a sounding board, role model and friend for kids who need a helping hand.
"You can get consumed by the game and your performance becomes so important it defines who you are," Goodhue told War Cry, the Salvation Army magazine. "It helps me remember it's not about my playing ability, it's who I am as a person, living the life God wants me to live. Being true to that is the most important thing."
Goodhue follows in that classic tradition of All Blacks being hewn from hard-grafting rural backgrounds, mixing manual jobs around his father's dairy farm with playing fierce two-on-two rugby matches in the backyard alongside his twin brother Josh and other siblings Axel and Cameron, all of whom became good, hard club players.
"Things would get a bit heated out on the lawn," Goodhue recalls. "It'd be 'if you don't stop crying in three seconds, you won’t be all an All Black'. Most times I'd rub those tears away and get on with the job, which was beating my brothers. That's where I learned to hone my skills."
Work would come first. Goodhue missed one representative schoolboys match in Auckland because his father had hurt his back and he had to go back to milk the cows on the family farm outside Kawakawa for a fortnight.
The little town on New Zealand's northernmost tip, previously celebrated most for being home to one of the world’s most colourful toilets designed by Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, can now boast rugby thinkers as a claim to fame.
The cerebral Joe Schmidt, just departed as Ireland coach, hails from here, and Goodhue is out of the Conrad Smith mould of centres, an unselfish but incisive attacker who instinctively seems to take the right options.
The mullet stays because it makes me faster, says NZ's Goodhue. OCTOBER 18, 2019 (c) 2019 Reuters [RUGBY-UNION-WORLDCUP-NZL-IRL/PREVIEW] (STREAM-700-16X9-MP4) pic.twitter.com/IVMUDAHIx8— chris and the Fippos (@dotfip) October 18, 2019
"Jack is going to be a world star. He has the attitude, the determination, the frame and a real rugby intellect," said Ronan O'Gara, the former Ireland fly-half who watched Goodhue's rise as a coach at Crusaders. This World Cup is already proving him right as Goodhue, alongside Anton Lienert-Brown has proved exceptional for the All Blacks.
He is due to marry his fiancee Sophia when he gets back home, prompting team-mate Sam Whitelock to ask him: "Jack, are you gonna cut your hair when you get married?"
If he returns as a champion, it is doubtful. By then, New Zealand may have slapped a national preservation order on The Mullet.