If anyone at the Blues qualifies as a surprise package it must surely be Tony Lamborn, a flanker who represented the United States at the recent World Cup and an eyebrow-raising choice to start in the No7 jersey against the Chiefs – an opportunity he took with both hands.
Lamborn’s all-energy performance and flat-out pace over 25m also earned him the honour of going into the history books as 2020’s first Super Rugby try scorer and this week the 28-year-old revealed if he hadn’t been called up by Blues coach Leon MacDonald he would probably be working as a builder in Hawke’s Bay for his brother Sam.
“I caught the ball and looked ahead and saw there was no one in front of me,” he told the Herald this week of his try following a TJ Faiane midfield break. “I figured there was someone behind me so I just had to give it my best shot. It didn’t click until after the game when a few people messaged me saying ‘first 2020 Super Rugby try’.
“I was full of adrenaline and happy to dot down. I’m not a big person for scoring tries – I’d rather be the one to get the turnover and someone else score it in the corner.”
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It’s an old-school attitude from a player who has done it the hard way, one who could probably teach his new teammates a bit about resilience.
Born in Timaru and brought up in Ashburton, mid Canterbury, Lamborn left school at 16 and was determined to give rugby a proper crack.
“I knew I had something there,” he said. “I knew I was naturally pretty gifted – a few of my friends and coaches said that. I went up there and gave it a good shot and managed to make the academy. I made the Magpies’ full squad in 2011 or 2012 so I’ve been around for a while. I played a season for the Hurricanes and finished up there when we won it .”
That year Lamborn travelled to the USA where his father, Jack, was born, and played in the MLR professional league. He made his test debut for the States the same year and represented the Eagles at last year’s World Cup in Japan.
“I always knew that was an option,” Lamborn said of representing the US. “Obviously when I made the Hurricanes I wanted to give the All Blacks a good crack but in the No7 jersey those days was Ardie, who had just made, it, Sam Cane… It was a tough decision to make but once I made it I wanted to give 100 per cent to the States and there was no turning back. I haven’t regretted it at all.”
At the World Cup, Lamborn’s team lost all four matches to England, Argentina, France and Tonga.
“I didn’t enjoy losing so much; I knew we were a much better team than that and it was pretty frustrating to go down, especially when we were leading against France – we could have beaten them – and Tonga in the last game.”
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But the opportunity and occasion – witnessed by mum Sari and wife Abby – made it all worthwhile. His Blues call-up came as a result.
“Just seeing how proud my family was,” he said of his World Cup highlight. “That really made it for me and I knew then that that was the best decision I could make – playing for the US. Even though my old man Jack is an All Blacks supporter, he was also very proud of me.
“I’m grateful Leon and Tom Coventry noticed my form during the World Cup and liked the style I bring. They thought I’d bring a different attitude and personality to change things up here.
“I think the boys were a bit shocked at the start because I’m a bit out there. I guess you could say I’m a bit crazy – I enjoy rugby but I also enjoy the banter with the boys and some weren’t quite used to that but they’ve taken to me with open arms.”
Featuring a host of international stars including Dan Carter, Samu Kerevi, Duane Vermuelen, Brodie Retallick, Andy Ellis, Matt Giteau, RG Snyman, Tevita Li and more! Catch up on all the highlights from Round 4 of the Japanese Top League:
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