Times have certainly changed since Andre Taylor cut his teeth in New Zealand’s NPC.
For starters, in 2006 it was the inaugural year of the Air New Zealand Cup, there was no Premiership/Championship split, and some average players were coining six figures for three months’ work as several unions used the $2m salary cap figure as a target.
What’s more, Taylor was still a Palmerston North BHS student when he was whistled up by Turbos coach Dave Rennie. In just his fourth game, he marked a certain Jonah Tali Lomu, when Manawatu faced North Harbour in Albany. The young fella did alright too, acquitting himself well.
“That was scary at the time. Luckily he wasn’t in his prime, otherwise I would have been on one of those YouTube clips, being a doormat!” says Taylor at today’s Mitre 10 Cup season launch in Auckland.
Taylor went on to play 33 games for both Manawatu (2006-09) and then Taranaki (2010-13), along with 54 often useful outings for the Hurricanes (2010-14), the Maori All Blacks and NZ Under 20s.
So where has the 31-year-old sprung from? Well, Japan has been home since 2014, playing for the Kintetsu Liners and latterly the Munakata Sanix Blues. There was even talk of him qualifying for the Brave Blossoms, but he is back to his roots, happy to settle down and offer value to Manawatu.
He is not the only old head. Lock cum loose forward Nick Crosswell played with Taylor in 2006 and is now on 93 games, so is gunning for the ton.
“It sure has changed. I’m just wondering whether I can keep up with all these young guys, but I have followed both Manawatu and Taranaki since I’ve been in Japan,” says Taylor.
Continue reading below…
Taylor will probably operate at fullback for Manawatu, but at full strength, there are plenty of back three options, such as Junior Laloifi, Te Rangatira Waitokia and of course Nehe Milner-Skudder, who may see some game time in October.
He cuts a relaxed figure, knowing he is not desperately searching for a full-time rugby gig anymore. Compare that with many youngsters coming through who have eyes only for Super Rugby.
“Japan was enjoyable, but things in life change. I’m just going with the flow now, really. Whatever comes, comes. If nothing comes, I’m not too worried. It’s more about my son and trying to spend more time with him when I can. I’ve also started a new business, doing property maintenance in Palmie, so once this season finishes, I can kick into that.”
Taylor enjoyed getting back to his College Old Boys club, earning his blazer for 25 games (which took him 12 years) and kicking back after the relentless nature of full-time professionalism.
“I might have lost a bit of speed, but the knowledge of the game has grown, so my positional play is better than it used to be. I can run fast, but these days younger guys can run faster, if you know what I mean,” he says.
The new Turbos coach is the experienced Peter Russell, who was the 2007 New Zealand coach of the year for his work with Hawke’s Bay.
“He’s good and I’ve seen him develop his coaching in Japan with NEC. They were a battling side, but are now back up in that top eight and pushing for the playoffs. He brings positivity and makes sure everyone is treated the same,” says Taylor.
Manawatu looks equipped to be a Championship contender after a disappointing sixth place finish in that division last season. The Turbos kick off their Mitre 10 Cup campaign with a Championship clash against old rival Hawke’s Bay on August 11.
In other news:
Sign up to our mailing list here and we’ll keep you up to the minute with weekly updates from the world of rugby.