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‘It felt strange’: The All Black who could’ve been a Wallaby

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Hurricanes enforcer Tyrel Lomax finished last year’s end-of-season tour as the All Blacks’ first choice tighthead prop, but his career could’ve gone down a very different path.

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Lomax was almost a Wallaby.

Born in Canberra, Lomax lived on the other side of the ditch for the first four years of his life while his father played professional rugby league in the Australian capital.

But after moving to New Zealand as a young kid, Lomax dreamt of following in his father’s footsteps by playing international rugby league for the Kiwis.

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The future All Blacks’ father, John Lomax, even captained New Zealand – rising to legendary status during his famous career with the Canberra Raiders, North Queensland and Melbourne Storm.

For a while, that’s all Lomax wanted.

But as a teenager, Lomax’s family moved back across the Tasman to support his older brother who signed on to play rugby league.

That opportunity proved to be a turning point for an exciting young talent who’d also grown up playing the 13-player game. After moving to Australia, Tyrel began playing rugby union.

While he missed out on Australian Schoolboys selection, Lomax went on to star for the Junior Wallabies – and was even named the Australian U20s Player of the Year.

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Fast forward a few years, and Wallabies coach Michael Cheika invited Lomax to a training camp in 2017. The future All Black even posed for photos in a Wallabies jersey.

In an exclusive interview with RugbyPass, Lomax opened up about how that experience forced him to make a career-defining decision.

“There was sort of that little bit of pressure,” Lomax told RugbyPass.

“I’d been called into that Wallabies camp and sort of made me have to make my decision a little bit quicker, I couldn’t keep saying, ‘Oh I’m not too sure who I want to play for.’

“I had to make a decision and it was about where I wanted to play my career for the next 10 or so years and I just felt that was in New Zealand, closer to my family.

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“I was just looking at the bigger picture, my Dad played for the Kiwis and that was my dream as a kid.

“I always felt like I was a kiwi in Australia, I always just felt like New Zealand was my home.

“Had an opportunity to go into a Wallabies camp where I took that photo in a Wallabies jersey which was a bit strange but it was my first real crack at Super Rugby over there and it just happened pretty quickly.

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“That photo got taken and it felt a bit strange wearing that jersey because I always thought of myself as a kiwi that wanted to play for New Zealand.”

At the end of 2017, Melbourne Rebels front-rower Lomax had decided to head back to New Zealand to further his career.

Looking to live closer to his family, Lomax spoke with Super Rugby clubs in New Zealand, before inking a deal with the Dunedin-based Highlanders.

The former Brumbies development player signed a deal with the Landers ahead of the 2018 season, and went on to make his debut in the coveted black jersey later that year.

“When I went to the Highlanders, it just seemed like a really good culture. Ash Dixon picked me up in his Ute,” he added.

“The other couple of clubs that I went to were quite secretive about me being there, sort of came in, met the coaches, had a tour of the facilities on the boys’ days off.

“When I went to the Highlanders, Ash Dixon he picked me up and took me in, I met the team and was talking to them and watching them train and just had a really good culture.

“They were all in New Zealand, I’d made my decision then that I’d like to come back and play in New Zealand.”

Lomax later decided to move north to the capital, and is now one of the Hurricanes’ best players in Super Rugby Pacific.

The prop initially missed out on Ian Foster’s All Blacks squads for the three-Test series against Ireland last year, and also The Rugby Championship.

But after being called up for the tour to South Africa as injury cover, Lomax went on to star during the win over the Springboks at Ellis Park – and he hasn’t looked back since.

Following his sensational form in the black jersey last year, the prop is shaping up as a likely All Blacks squad member at this year’s Rugby World Cup in France.

“It’s a huge goal.

“Obviously there’s a lot of rugby to be played before then and it’s just about getting there, there’s been a few guys get injured along the way.

“Just trying to stay fit and healthy and hopefully play well enough that I get selected and it’s a good call from Fossie this time, not like last year.”

Following his breakout campaign in the black jersey, Lomax recently signed a contract extension with New Zealand Rugby through until the end of 2026.

Lomax will remain with the Hurricanes for the next few seasons, and is also aligned with the Tasman Mako in the NPC.

“When I moved over I wasn’t even sure if I was good enough to make the All Blacks, they were always the best team in the world.

“I didn’t know what it was going to be like when I came over here but definitely no regrets.

“Even if I didn’t play for the All Blacks, I probably still wouldn’t have any regrets.”

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Comments

10 Comments
G
Greg 445 days ago

Totally agree, Jo. NZ front row is not the issue.

A
Andrew 447 days ago

Was pretty hopeless in his firstvstint in the black jersey then came alive last year. Best TH in NZ now.

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