South behind de Groot

Push comes to shove . . . All Black Ethan de Groot (with ball) is tackled by Matias Alemanno of Argentina during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 semifinal match between their sides at Stade de France in Paris, France on Saturday morning (NZT). PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

From the back fields of Gore to the biggest rugby stage of them all.
Ethan de Groot, of Albion, Riversdale, Blues, Southland and the Highlanders, is all set to play in the Rugby World Cup final. The big loosehead prop is odds on to line up in his 22nd test for the All Blacks in Paris on Sunday morning in the showpiece of the sport.
Parents Nikkila and Rodney, who have been with him all the way, will be cheering him on from home.
De Groot was actually born in Australia, but came to the South at an early age. Albion was his first club and he is still seen sideline at the club on the odd weekend he is able.
Albion stalwart Bob Vercoe said de Groot remained humble and loyal to the club.
‘‘When he made the All Blacks, my son, who had played with him, texted him and he got a reply within 30 seconds, saying thanks,’’ he said.
‘‘When Ethan’s brother [Isaiah] brought up his 50th game last year, Ethan came down and was on the sideline for him. The club wanted him to present the jersey to his brother but Ethan said, no it wasn’t about him, it is about his brother, and the club.
‘‘That is the sort of guy he is. Always true to his club. Loves the Stags.’’
De Groot went to Gore High School, also spending some time playing for the Riversdale side while still at school.
He left school for a while but then went back, heading to Southland Boys’ High School.
From there it was Southland, a few injuries, the Highlanders in 2020 and the All Blacks just a year later.
De Groot has the size and mobility for the modern game and most importantly the stickability to succeed.
He has had his share of injuries, both when at school and at first-class level.
But tenacity has been a hallmark.
He was dropped last year from the national side but it worked in his favour as the All Blacks slumped to a series loss to Ireland in his absence.
At the World Cup he was sent off — some would say harshly — for a high tackle but he copped the two-match ban and came back strongly in the past two games.
Now it all comes down to 80 minutes against the old enemy — South Africa.
He is ready, he is willing and all of the South is right in behind him.

Ready to go . . . De Groot arrives at the stadium ahead of the
semifinal last weekend. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES