All Blacks: Ethan de Groot expects a massive ‘challenge’ at Ellis Park

Dylan Coetzee

Ethan de Groot of All Blacks during All Blacks Press Conference atSandton Convention Centre on the 11 August 2022 © Sydney Mahlangu/Sports Inc

All Blacks front-row Ethan de Groot is excited to be playing against South Africa at Ellis Park after not making the squad for the Ireland series in July.

The prop will be starting his first Test against the Springboks and looks forward to the challenge after impressing off the bench last week.

Pressure is on the All Blacks, who have slipped to fifth in the world rankings, and De Groot knows how important big games like this are.

Unlikely pathway

“Yeah-nah, I’m excited,” De Groot told Stuff. “It’s going to be a hell of a challenge. Probably if you’d told me five weeks ago when I was strapping up down in Oreti Park in Southland that I’d be starting at Ellis Park, I would have told you to get lost. I’m super excited and grateful for the opportunity.”

Despite the obvious disappointment, De Groot admits that being omitted from the squad to face Ireland in July was probably good for him.

“I was pretty gutted at the start when I didn’t make the first series, but looking back it was probably a good thing, I did need to put in some work, so it was about going away and doing a bit of training on my own, and looking in from the outside,” he said.

Experienced All Blacks hooker Codie Taylor says that Ellis Park is “intense” and that it will take a bit of adjustment for De Groot to settle in after the start of the game.

“I’d say in the first two minutes he’ll be absolutely heaving because of the altitude and just the arena itself,” said Taylor. “It’s an intense place to play, but it’s also the best place to play in the world. There’s some awesome history at Ellis Park and I have fond memories of running round in the black jersey there. That work in getting off the ground is going to pay dividends, I think.”

A great rivalry

Taylor is looking forward to his role on the bench and revelled in the rivalry between the Springboks and All Blacks.

“You always want to be out there, so getting an opportunity this week there is plenty of energy there,” he said. “I’m feeling pretty refreshed I suppose from the week off. It’s just another opportunity really and it doesn’t get much better than this given where we’ve been the last few weeks.”

“It’s just two hugely proud rugby nations going head-to-head, combined with a bit of mutual respect. There’s always good relationships built off the back of those games and a lot of respect between the players. But once you’re out there it’s all go, you’re giving everything you can, because the Saffas aren’t small and it’s what it takes if you want to win over here.”

READ MORE: All Blacks: Richie Mo’unga starts ahead of Beauden Barrett for second Springboks Test