Ethan de Groot hopes to inspire more All Blacks from Southland

For those lucky enough, the first time being named in an All Blacks squad is an unforgettable occasion but for Highlanders and Southland prop Ethan de Groot, last night's selection was a rather calm affair.

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The 22-year-old prop was one of four debutants picked this year and wants his selection to mean something. Source: 1 NEWS

"I was just at home with my partner watching it on the phone," de Groot said.

He couldn't watch much else on his mobile afterward, with messages pouring in to give the moment some colour and gravitas.

"It kept vibrating for about two hours," he said.

"I didn't get much sleep last night."

The 22-year-old was one of four rookies selected by Ian Foster in his 36-strong squad for the 2021 season last night after an impressive season with the Highlanders in both Super Rugby Aotearoa and Super Rugby trans-Tasman.

He admitted he knew he was on the All Blacks selectors radar after scrum coach Greg Feek visited him for a chat during the season, but had no idea if he'd done enough until NZR chairman Stewart Mitchell called his name out last night.

He said the Highlanders was one of the key factors in his rapid rise this season.

"Definitely our coaching staff and the older guys in our team [helped me]," he said.

"They've been huge for my growth."

Southland proud

Ethan de Groot. Source: Getty

Since he first strapped on his boots, de Groot has always been a front rower although he admitted there was a period when he shifted to the middle of the scrum. 

"I moved to hooker for a couple of years but then I got even bigger so I went back to prop."

By the end of high school, de Groot had cemented himself as a prop at Southland Boys’ High School and rose through the ranks at Rugby Southland Academy before debuting for the province in 2018.

That led to two appearances off the bench for the Highlanders last year before he became a regular feature of the matchday 23 this year - capped off by a two-try performance against the Waratahs late in their campaign.

De Groot said he idolised southern products such as Otago prop Carl Hayman and Southland's own whopper, Jamie Mackintosh, growing up.

"Growing up watching the Stags boys, there hasn't been a hell of a lot [of All Blacks] since those guys so to follow in their footsteps is pretty special."

After reaching the same heights as his role models, he hopes to now play the same role for the next generation of Southern talent.

"I'd like to think I can inspire parents and kids to stay in Southland and do their schooling in Southland," he said.

"There is a pathway - it's tough and you're not in the limelight but it can be done.

"A lot of parents send their kids away out of the province and then they go on from there but hopefully I've inspired some people to stick to their roots and show it can be done."

De Groot's selection means he won't be able to play for his beloved Stags this season though.

"The Southland supporters are happy and sad," he joked.

"They're happy they've got an All Black from the region but they're sad I won't be stripping on the maroon and gold this year."

"He's got my back"

Instead, he could get an opportunity to see how he looks in black although he said even if he doesn't get that chance, just being in the squad is a huge step for him.

"I'm just keen to go up there and learn as much as I can from the best," he said.

"I think I'm big enough but I know I've got a lot to learn."

He won't be alone though with Highlanders teammates Aaron Smith and Shannon Frizell joining him in the squad and already helping him adjust to his new status.

"I spoke to Aaron this morning and he just said to go out there and be myself and that he's got my back."

De Groot flies north to Auckland for a three-day camp later this week before the team prepares for Tonga next Saturday.