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The newest member of the Maori All Blacks' sudden rise from club rugby loose forward to international prop

By Tom Vinicombe

Trending on RugbyPass

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It wasn’t long ago that Ollie Norris made a decision that changed the trajectory of his career.

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Having spent his formative years playing in the loose forwards, Norris had some wisdom dropped on him by Chiefs player identification manager Kent Currie.

“I had played a couple of games of prop at school but was still floating around the No 8 role at the time,” Norris toldĀ RugbyPass.

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“Then Kent told me that if I stayed in the loose forwards, I could become a club rugby legend and play 100 games at No 8. Or, I could play Super Rugby at prop.

“I told him to screw off for a bit but I ended up loving it. That was in 2018 so I’ve only done three years of propping so far but it’s a good free license to eat what I want for a few years and run a few kegs.”

Now, following his first fully contracted season with the Chiefs, the 21-year-old has been named in the Maori All Blacks squad for their upcoming series with Samoa.

It’s been a quick rise for the 21-year-old, who was born in Sydney to a Kiwi mother and an Australian father, but moved to New Zealand at a young age and completed his schooling at St Peter’s College in Cambridge.

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After finishing his schooling in 2017, Norris spent two years with the New Zealand Under 20s and first cracked the Waikato Mitre 10 Cup team in 2019, despite originally being told his core jobs as a prop weren’t yet up to standard.

“They told me I wasn’t ready to scrum that early on,” Norris said. “That kind of pushed me and motivated me to get better. Then I was lucky enough to get my opportunity through injuries.”

Norris played a handful of games for Waikato over the past two seasons and made his debut for the Chiefs later in last year’s campaign before coming onboard as a full-time squad member this season.

“I was just expecting to cover every couple of weeks but actually played every game apart from a couple so I’ve been pretty happy,
he said of the just-completed season. “I’ve been bloody enjoying it and I’ve been learning so much. It’s a step up from Mitre 10 Cup footy.

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“Every year is a big step up, to be fair. Super Rugby was a massive jump but I was pretty lucky to be involved in the 2020 season so I had a couple of glimpses of what it would be like.”

Norris finished the season with 10 appearances to his name – 11 of them from the bench, and supported the likes of fellow props Aidan Ross, Angus Ta’avao and Reuben O’Neill, who all had strong seasons for the Super Rugby Aotearoa finalists.

“It’s awesome having those older guys, they’re helpful as,” Norris said. “Especially because they know I’m young and new to propping. They’re always giving me pointers and I’m chewing their ear off in training – they give me a bit of rough up and certainly have a go at me too.

“When I first started playing prop and scrummaging, I was taught a few lessons by some of the older boys. It’s really technical. When I was a loose forward I always thought ‘Oh the big boys will just push straight and whoever’s strongest wins’ but there’s so much of a technical side to it.”

Speaking following his selection, Norris admitted he’d not had any expectations of a call up to the Maori All Blacks this year.

“I’m still buzzing eh? I’m still super pumped for it. Still excited for it. I wasn’t really expecting a phone call and yesterday when I got it, I was pretty stoked. It’s going to be awesome representing my whanau and friends back home. I’m pretty excited for it.”

He also elected the player he’s most looking forward to playing alongside: “Probably Ash Dixon. He’s got a lot of mana and has been around the tracks for quite a while. It’ll be awesome to hopefully get in the front row him and link shoulders with him.”

Norris isn’t the only former loose forward selected in the front row for the Maori All Blacks, with 20-year-old Crusaders behemoth Tamaiti Williams also set to earn some minutes for the representative side.

Both players are excellent and mobile around the park – a product of their many years spent popping up alongside the fleet-footed characters in the backline.

Norris, in particular, is more than happy to chalk up some metres with ball-in-hand when called upon.

“I love carrying the ball,” he toldĀ RugbyPass. “I don’t do as much of it now with being a prop but certainly still have the skillset from back when I was at No 8. I’m just involved in lineouts now, not running in the backline!”

The Maori All Blacks are set to play two matches against Samoa this season – the first in Wellington on June 26 and the second at Mount Smart in Auckland on July 3.

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The newest member of the Maori All Blacks' sudden rise from club rugby loose forward to international prop

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