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The Australian lock that the Hurricanes signed out of MLR in America

By Adam Julian
Ben Grant looks on during a Hurricanes Super Rugby Pacific training session at NZCIS on January 19, 2024 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Ben Grant was the tallest player in Major League Rugby (MLR) last year and is the tallest recruit in the Hurricanes Super Rugby squad in 2024.

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The Australian lock stands 2.05m making him the second tallest player in MLR history behind Houston lock Justin Allen (2.08m).

Conspicuous height wasn’t the only reason Grant stood out. The 25-year-old helped the San Diego Legion win 15 out of 16 games en route to the final which they devastatingly lost to the lower-ranked New England Free Jacks (24-25).

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Two years in California, however, was a personal triumph for Grant. He started 28 matches and has revived prospects of a long sought-after Super Rugby career by singing with the Hurricanes.

Grant had spent four years with the Force and had a stint as injury cover for the Reds. He made an Australian Under 20’s training squad in 2017 that featured future internationals Tate McDermott, Rob Valentini, Harry Hooper, and Mack Hansen.

“I guess I’ve taken the scenic route to Wellington,” Grant laughed as he spoke with RugbyPass.

“The chance to be here came about in America. Jamie Mackintosh (Hurricanes assistant coach) was coaching the Austin Gilgronis and we struck up a bit of a relationship.

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“My dad Travis played in New Zealand. I’d always wanted to do the same thing. Issac Ross, the former All Black, has become a mentor. He used his contacts to help me get a gig in the NPC at North Harbour and that suddenly opened doors.

“In 2017 I was only a teenager when I came across from Queensland to join the Force Academy on a development contract. The next season we were removed from Super Rugby, but I decided to stay around which was a hell of an experience.”

Grant played locally with the Cottesloe club and professionally for the Perth Spirit in the National Rugby Championship. The Spirit won in 2019. The Force refused to disappear and instead participated in Global Rapid Rugby established by billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest.

Global Rapid Rugby featured teams from Hong Kong, Fiji, Samoa, China, and Malaysia. It reduced the duration of matches by ten minutes and introduced a 9-point ‘power try’ for attacks launched within 22 meters of the scoring team’s own try line. Time limits were set for scrums and lineouts, and teams were disallowed from gaining ground by kicking directly to touch, even within their 22. The Force won the first title in 2019 before Covid put an end to the competition.

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“Andrew was very passionate and involved with the Force. He was often at training. We went to a huge gathering on his cattle farm, and he came to all the games. At one game he donated $100,000 for every try we scored. At halftime, he announced that on the loudspeaker after we’d only scored one try in the first half,” Grant laughed.

“Ironically the travel restrictions of Covid helped save the Force. There is a real zeal for rugby in the West and a lot of good people.

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“Personally; I struggled with a lack of game time. I was being told I needed to get bigger and bigger. You can train the house down, but it’s hard to improve if you’re not playing.”

Grant insists American rugby is improving despite the New York and Toronto franchises folding at the end of the last season. A record crowd of more than 10,000 fans attended the 2023 final at the neutral SeatGeek Stadium in Chicago.

“It was disappointing to see those clubs fall over but there are plans afoot to replace them. Almost everyone I talked to said that the competitiveness of MLR has increased. The coaching is better, and some teams are really solid and organised,” Grant said.

Since 2018 San Diego has won 51 of their 77 matches and made four playoff appearances.

Grant models his game on Wallabies legend Nathan Sharpe (116 Tests).

“The thing that stood out about Nathan apart from his lineout and leadership was the good attacking lines he ran. He was really smart and aggressive on the carry. He’d hit holes and make ground others couldn’t.”

Sharpe made 92 of his 162 Super Rugby appearances for the Force who ironically are the Hurricanes first opponent in Super Rugby 2024 in Perth on February 24.

“My first goal is to make my Super Rugby debut but there is a lot of competition at lock. Caleb Delany, Justin Sangster, James Tucker, and Isaia Walker-Leawere are all established Super players,” Grant said.

“It’s been amazing to rub shoulders with All Blacks and train with New Zealand players. They have a really attacking mindset to the game which is quite different from what I’ve experienced. I want to put my best foot forward and keep growing.”

Dominic Bird and Mark Cooksley, officially the tallest All Blacks of all time, played for the Hurricanes.

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