Skipping rope practice and running up steps may have worked wonders for Rocky but it wasn’t until Connacht prop Rodney Ah You switched the boxing gloves for rugby boots that his hard graft began paying off.
The 23-year-old has taken this season’s RaboDirect PRO12 by storm but before Ah You was landing crunching tackles, he was delivering knock-out blows inspired by the great Muhammed Ali.
Growing up in Christchurch, New Zealand, as the son of a second-generation professional heavyweight, boxing was always going to be in Ah You’s blood, but his sporting attention changed at the age of 16 after attending famous rugby school Christchurch Boys High.
Three years later, Ah You had collected two Junior World Championship winners’ medals with the Kiwis’ youth sides but he admits he owes it all to his father Kelope for putting him through his paces with early morning training regimes, just like those seen in the iconic Rocky films.
“My real love was boxing and I was always watching Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Muhammed Ali, but when I wasn’t watching boxing I was watching rugby,” said Ah You.
“Then I went to Christchurch Boys High which was famous for rugby and about 30 All Blacks have been through the school, so I thought I’d take up rugby as well.
“I wouldn’t say rugby came easy to me because I had to work very hard at it, and I had a lot of catching up to do. But my dad believed in me and he still treated me like a boxing student.
“He used to make me go for early morning training runs, and when somebody had a skipping rope in training at Connacht a few weeks ago, and none of my teammate could keep up with me.
“But I always imagined that I would just be playing rugby in my spare time and working.
“I’m a qualified joiner and I thought I’d work in Christchurch – I never imagined moving away.”
After being spotted by Connacht head coach Eric Elwood playing for New Zealand’s juniors, he was offered the opportunity of a lifetime but it would mean moving 10,000 miles to Galway.
It is clear to see why he has been labelled a special project by the Connacht coaching staff with his destructive scrummaging and ball-carrying.
And, just over a year after landing in Ireland, Ah You may be yet to taste a drop of Guinness, but he admits he dreams of one day pulling on the green jersey and being considered an honorary Irishman.
“It was really hard to leave New Zealand and coming here was my first time away from home,” Ah You who will qualify for Ireland through residency grounds.
“After two or three months I did feel homesick but I got through it and I like living in Galway.
“I still haven’t tried a pint of Guinness, the lads have been telling me to but I haven’t got around to it, but I promise I will eventually.
“When I was younger it was my dream to be an All Black but some things change in life and now my ambition is to represent Ireland.
“This is the country that gave me the chance to play professionally and make my living and it would be an honour to repay them by playing for them.”