ETHAN de Groot hopes his selection for the All Blacks will show others in Southland they do not have to leave the province to achieve their dream.
The loosehead prop, who was educated in Invercargill and Gore, where most of his family still live, was the longest of long shots six months ago at being named an All Black.
But on Monday night, de Groot (22) was named in the All Blacks squad to play in the July internationals and will join the side in the next couple of days.
“It is just a dream come true. Any kid in New Zealand wants to be an All Black that plays footy, so I just can’t believe it has happened,” he said on Tuesday.
“My parents signed me up when I was young and I just never stopped playing.”
de Groot first played for the Albion-Excelsior club in Gore, before playing at Gore High School.
In Year 12, he moved to Invercargill, attending Southland Boys’ High School and playing for its 1st XV when rugby became more of a focus.
He has played for the Invercargill Blues Rugby Club, the Southland Stags and the Highlanders.
“Growing up, my favourite players were Carl Hayman and obviously Whopper [Jamie Mackintosh] from Southland.
“There has not been a hell of a lot since those guys, sitting where I am now, so to follow in their footsteps has been pretty special,” de Groot said.
“I’d like to think I have inspired parents and kids to stay in Southland and do their schooling in Southland because there is a pathway. It is tough because you are not in the limelight but it can be done.
“A lot of parents send their kids away, out of the province to do their schooling and then they go on from there. But I hope fully I’ve inspired some people to stick to their roots.”
Former coach at Southland Boys’ High School, Peter Skelt, said de Groot was very, very focused on learning as much as possible about the game.
“He worked extremely hard on developing his skill set both at the set piece and in general play.”
He also focused on the work off the field, continuously at the gym making sure his body was in the best condition to play, Skelt said.
While at the secondary school, de Groot’s priority was to focus on his role in the game plan and play in the team week-in, week-out, regardless of any pain, Skelt said.
After dislocating a shoulder during a match, de Groot continued in the game and played the following weeks, strapped up.
“He was a player who had a high pain threshold.”
Skelt said de Groot followed in a line of All Black loosehead props, which included Clark Dermody and Mackintosh, who also attended the school.
Skelt said de Groot always had the makings of a potential All Black as he had the talent but also the work ethic and tenacity, and always wanted to improve on his game.