'They hand my arse to me': Ethan de Groot's tough All Blacks lessons
The benefit for Ethan de Groot of the All Blacks going on a mammoth 10-week tour is that the selectors were forced to select eight props in the squad, allowing for the 23-year-old’s inclusion. With so many front-rowers on board, however, training hasn’t always been quite what De Groot expected.
The Southland and Highlanders prop was originally named in the Rugby Championship squad as cover for the injured Joe Moody, who had also sat out the July series, allowing De Groot to earn his first test cap for the All Blacks.
Moody and fellow injured prop Ofa Tuungafasi were expected to make their returns via the NPC while the squad travelled to Australia for the Rugby Championship but just days before the flight, New Zealand went back into a state of lockdown due to Covid, which meant the team travelled to Perth with a considerable number of front-rowers.
De Groot, Moody and Tuungafasi were joined by George Bower, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Nepo Laulala, Angus Ta’avao and Tyrel Lomax in Australia, meaning the side were never short of props – even with Moody and Tuungafasi on the mend.
De Groot had his own troubles, with a lingering neck injury preventing the youngster from coming into the selection equation.
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Even when fit, however, things didn’t all go De Groot’s way, with the Gore-native the first cab off the ranks when it came to covering other positions in the pack at trainings.
“It was frustrating, sometimes I was training at No 8 and I was sort of just thrown in there and I wasn’t getting a lot of reps at scrum time,” he said on Thursday. “[I was] still learning a lot by just watching and when I [did] get a chance to have a go, just [had to] make it count.”
The 23-year-old didn’t hold any grudges, however, and had no complaints about his time with the team.
“What have I got to be upset about? I’m on tour, I’m in the All Blacks, I am an All Black,” he said.
“There was times I was getting a bit upset – obviously getting the small opportunities at training because there’s so many of us … It’s all part of it. Obviously, our job’s to prepare the boys. The props that are playing are obviously the ones that need the hit-out and the load so I’m just happy to do my part.”
De Groot has still packed down in his preferred loosehead role on enough occasions with the squad to know he still has plenty to learn about the trade, acknowledging that he’d been put to the sword by some of the best props in the business, but also that he’d picked up plenty of tips and tricks from his more experienced teammates.
“Obviously [the other props have] a lot of experience under the belt,” he noted. “[They’d give me] small pointers. Even Karl, Ofa… I actually learn more off the tightheads, guys like Nepo. They hand my arse to me every now and then and I learn from it.
“You see it in Super, we all go at it. Those guys are awesome but Neps, in my opinion, he’s the best tighthead in the world at the moment and he gets me every now and then but sometimes I catch him napping.”
Despite kicking off their rivalry in 1913, before coming up against the likes of Italy, Argentina or even South Africa, this weekend’s match will mark just the fourth time the #AllBlacks and @USARugby have gone toe to toe. #USAvNZL
— The XV Rugby (@TheXV) October 20, 2021
While it’s not quite the same occasion as a test debut, it’s still a momentous achievement for the young prop – who admits he’ll have to keep his energy in check at kick-off.
“I’m not too emotional so it’ll probably just be trying to keep my cool and not trying to blow myself out in the first 10 minutes [from] getting too stuck in. It’ll just be getting ready for a normal game and going out there and going hard.”
The game will mark the first time the two sides have faced off since New Zealand conquered the US 74-6 back in 2014.
Saturday’s match kicks off at 3:30pm EDT from FedExField in Washington (8:30am on Sunday morning for New Zealanders).
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