German teen picks All Black dream over English club
SPOTLIGHT: Since the first official All Blacks side took to the field when they toured New South Wales back in 1884, a total of 1190 players have come through the ranks to don the famous black jersey.
Of those almost 1200 players, many were born abroad, hailing from places like Australia, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, England, Scotland, Ireland and South Africa, as well as minnow rugby nations such as Singapore, India and Hong Kong.
None, however, have been born in Germany, but rising teenage star Anton Segner is hoping to break that mould in the coming years.
The 19-year-old loose forward is beginning to make his mark on the New Zealand rugby scene, three years after moving to the country for what initially intended to be a six-month stay at Nelson College.
Encouraged to make the move to the other side of the world by his former coach in Germany and current Tasman development officer Tim Manawatu, Segner made the school’s 1st XV, a feat which he has previously described as unexpected.
His on-field exploits have exploded since then, with Segner going on to captain his school to a UC Championship title last year, adding to the back-to-back New Zealand Schools selections he earned in 2018 and 2019.
All of that culminated in the Tasman Mako, the reigning Mitre 10 Cup champions, offering the youngster a two-year deal straight out of school, which led to Segner’s provincial debut against Southland little more than a week ago.
The building blocks are in place, it seems, for the talented back-rower to eventually achieve his long-term goal of playing for the All Blacks, a side he’d rather play for than his native Germany, a team placed 30th on the World Rugby rankings
Speaking to the What a Lad podcast, hosted by injured Hurricanes and Tasman utility back James Marshall, Segner said the status of the All Blacks makes the side much more appealing to play for than his homeland.
“Definitely New Zealand. All Blacks over the German national team, just because the German national team isn’t that flash yet,” he said when asked which country he would rather represent.
“I like to say ‘yet’ because I hope the sport’s going to grow over there, but my end goal is to be the best athlete I can be, and if being an All Black is part of that journey, then that’s awesome, that’d be cool.”
While All Blacks selection could still be some way off from coming to fruition, Segner has already had the honour of representing New Zealand at age-grade level.
Picked for the 2018 Schools team as a Year 12 student, Segner teamed up with future Mitre 10 Cup prospects – like Niko Jones, Rivez Reihana, Sam Darry and Isaiah Punivai – to topple Tonga Schools, Australia Schools Barbarians and Australia Schools.
The following year, Segner joined current Mitre 10 Cup rookies Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepens, Ruben Love, Aidan Morgan and Gideon Wrampling to pick up a win over Fiji U18s, although they lost to Australia Schools for the first time since 2012.
Nevertheless, the experience of wearing the silver fern and performing the haka was something Segner relished given he had dreamed of doing that ever since he was a child growing up in Frankfurt.
“When I was nine-years-old when I first started playing rugby, I watched the highlights of the 2011 World Cup,” the 1.92m, 108kg flank, who also represented Germany at U16 level, told the What a Lad podcast.
“We watched the haka with Piri Weepu leading it and I was like, ‘Man, that’d be awesome to do that one day’.
“Tim Manawatu always went on about how cool it is to do the haka and how it gets you hyped up for the game.
“Doing it in 2018 for the first time with the New Zealand Schools team was unreal.”
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He may have to wait longer than anticipated to do it again, though, as a residency rule has denied him the chance to play for the New Zealand U20 side.
“In 2017, the rule was you have to have lived within the country for three years, and each year you’re not allowed to leave the country for longer than six weeks,” Segner said.
“At the end of 2017, I didn’t even think that the Tasman Mako or New Zealand Schools or U20s was even a dream for me, so I didn’t really worry about it.
“I went back to Germany for about half a year to finish off my schooling, so my first year didn’t count at all.
“Another thing that happened was that while I was in Germany, between my first year and my second year in New Zealand, they changed that rule to five years, so I came back here, did my first counted year in New Zealand.
“I just know that it’s [his eligibility for New Zealand will come] just after I turn 21, but that’s when I’m too old, so U20s has been ruled out for me, unfortunately, but I’m still lucky enough that they want me to take part in all the camps and stuff, so that’s cool.”
Had fate taken a different path, Segner might have faced off against New Zealand rather than play for them at age-grade level.
While plying his trade in Germany during his youth, the teenager’s talents were noted by Premiership scouts while on a club tour of England about five years ago.
An expression of interest from London Irish may well have steered Segner towards the white jersey and red rose of England further down the track, but he opted to take the advice of his coaches to move to New Zealand instead.
“With my old club, 1880 Frankfurt, we went there in U14s, so I was about 13 or 14-years-old,” he told Marshall.
“We went over there, and it was quite funny because we usually try to go on an overseas tour there once a year.
“Those teams, they wouldn’t expect us to be that good, but since we were fortunate enough to have Kiwi coaches come over, we were quite well-coached and they were surprised by how good we were and we usually ended up beating most of those teams.
“That year we went to London Irish and they said, ‘Look, we like the way you play and we see a bright future in you and we’re interested in having you take part in our academy’, but I was like, ‘Nah’.
“The coaches over there [in Germany], they convinced me of New Zealand, so I was set on New Zealand – flights were booked and everything.”
Subsequently, Segner looks on track to push for Super Rugby honours – even with only two Mitre 10 Cup caps to his name – especially after being invited to pre-season training with the Crusaders by head coach Scott Robertson earlier this year.
Given their status as four-time reigning Super Rugby champions, it comes as no surprise that Segner, a member of the Crusaders academy and a former Crusaders U18 representative, listed them as his preferred franchise to play for.
He’ll take what he can get in that regard, however, as he aims to check off yet another accomplishment in a growing list of career goals that few players from New Zealand could ever achieve.
“Just try and get as much game time as possible with the Mako here and get a Super Rugby gig somewhere,” he said of what lies ahead for his rugby-playing future.
“Now that I’ve got Mitre 10 Cup [experience], hopefully I’ll be playing in that a bit more, then the next step is Super Rugby, so soon as possible, really.”