Nick Cummins apologises as he momentarily loses his train of thought while discussing lining up for the Barbarians against Australia, the country of his birth, at Twickenham on Saturday.
“Sorry mate, I’m still on Mongolian time,” he laughs.
Mongolian time? “Yeah, I made a last-minute decision to go Western Mongolia last week to do some hunting,” says the 27-year-old with a grin.
“There’s mountains, there’s horses and there’s eagles, and if you mix them all up you end up with a fox. Take the mask off the eagle and it can zoom in on a fox from a couple of kilometres. Then you chase after it on the horse to get it. I lived with a nomad family, seeing how they survive. I didn’t shower for a week and you’re eating their tucker, drinking horse milk. There was a massive language barrier but the universal language is a joke, and if you drop your guts that breaks the ice a bit!”
Welcome to the world of ‘The Honey Badger’, a man who fully justifies his tag as the most interesting and unusual character in world rugby.
Talking to him is a slightly surreal – and utterly hilarious — experience, with the winger an antidote to anodyne sound-bites and bland platitudes.
“Normal for me is different every time, if that makes sense” is how he sums up his own personality. “You can’t get bogged down in the mundane.”
Cummins could never be accused of that, and a quick flick through his holiday snap-book would reveal that a trip to Mongolia isn’t that far out of the ordinary.
“I’ve quad-biked through Western Australia and I’ve swum with whale sharks,” he says. “Then I went to Cambodia and fired a bazooka, that was a goody. I was shooting at a mountain. Safety regulations are pretty minimal up there and I’m standing there without my shirt on, firing this bloody rocket at a mountain. It was great!”
His trips to Cambodia and Mongolia were made possible by the fact he is currently living in Japan, having forsaken a guaranteed spot in the Australian side to join the West Red Sparks this summer.
He did so to support his sick family.
His father, Mick, a single parent to eight children – including two with cystic fibrosis – had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer and Cummins decided to almost certainly abandon his World Cup dream to support them financially. Discussing his family is the only time Cummins becomes reticent during our interview, making clear his preference that they remain out of the spotlight.
Instead, he focuses on life in his newly adopted home.
“There are a few translation issues,” he acknowledges. “How do you translate ‘up the guts?’ You throw some chat and the translator gets a third of what I said, then he tells the bloke what he thinks he heard, then he writes something different again. Over there you really can’t believe what you hear. But it’s awesome. The Japanese are the nicest people around. You get lost and they walk you 200 metres to make sure you get there rather than just telling you. And I brought my inflatable boat with me so I just putter around the islands, having a fish.”
But there will be a sense of what might have been when he faces Australia on Saturday. When he was in London with the Wallabies last year he spent the week before the game fishing on the Thames having borrowed a rod from the hotel porter, but now he is on the outside looking in. That said, he hasn’t completely given up on being at the World Cup, although he admits it’s ‘not looking that good’.
But for the moment he will be satisfied with putting a smile on the faces of former team-mates who have endured a tough time after the Kurtley Beale text saga and the resignation of Ewen McKenzie as Head Coach.
“It’s trying times for the boys,” he admits. “They need to let the storm settle, come together and restart. If they do that I think they’ll be bloody good.
“The boys have said they like how the new coach (former Leinster boss Michael Cheika) rolls. It’ll be weird to come up against them but it’ll be good too.”
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