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'Hell of a birthday present': Ethan de Groot 'stoked' at All Blacks recall

By Sam Smith
(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

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Recalled All Blacks prop Ethan de Groot is ready to rip into action after receiving a special birthday present on Friday.

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On the same day that he turned 24-years-old, the four-test star was one of two players – alongside Highlanders teammate Shannon Frizell – called into the All Blacks squad for the upcoming Rugby Championship.

After making his All Blacks debut last year, De Groot was a surprise omission from the All Blacks squad named to face Ireland in what was an ultimately unsuccessful three-test series.

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In response to his side’s historic series defeat, All Blacks boss Ian Foster has brought De Groot back into the national set-up in place of Karl Tu’inukuafe, who will leave New Zealand for French club Montpellier at the end of the year.

“I’m just stoked, stoked to get back in there,” De Groot told 1 News of his All Blacks recall, which he described as a “hell of a birthday present”, on Friday.

“I was pretty gutted when I didn’t get named in the Steinlager Series, so just went away and put in a bit of work and stoked to be back in.”

Tasked with shedding some weight and improving his fitness levels, De Groot’s response to his exclusion from the national squad impressed Foster, who was unaware that his All Blacks recall coincided with his birthday.

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“Actually, I didn’t know it was his birthday. You should have told me before this. I’m sure he enjoyed the phone call,” Foster told media on Friday.

“Delighted with Ethan de Groot coming in. He’s done what we’ve asked him to do the last six or seven weeks. A lot leaner, a lot fitter, and excited with his selection.

“He’s dropped quite a bit of weight. He’s bouncing around and he’s still a new All Black with lots to learn, but, like I said, got a lot of faith in him long-term. We just need him to get the levels that we need him to.”

Disappointed not to have featured against the Irish, De Groot’s determination to return to the All Blacks paved the way for his recall.

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“I’ve lost a few kilos. I won’t say how much, but I’ve been working hard,” De Groot said.

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“You’ve just got to turn a negative into a positive and look at it as an opportunity. That’s sort of how I looked at it. Obviously felt sorry for myself for a couple of days, but just got to get back on the horse.”

De Groot’s absence from the Southland squad will be sorely felt, especially after the Stags succumbed to a 50-5 thumping at the hands of Otago in a NPC pre-season match – which De Groot featured in – at Invercargill on Friday.

Despite being sad to see him go, Southland assistant coach David Hall backs De Groot to flourish in the All Blacks environment.

“He knows what it takes now,” Hall told 1 News. He’s had a taste of it, he’s had a taste of the other side of footy, so I’m sure he’ll get in there and he won’t take it for granted and he’ll hook in. We sure will miss him.”

De Groot will join the All Blacks squad in Wellington on Monday before departing to South Africa for their opening two Rugby Championship tests against the Springboks in Nelspruit and Johannesburg on August 6 and August 13.

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