Mitch Drummond always wanted to be an All Black and when he made his debut this year, that dream became a reality. Jonty Dine reports on the rise and rise of a local star.
When Mitch Drummond walked out in front of 50,000 fans at Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo, the livewire halfback thought back to his childhood.
He thought back to the days when, as a teenager, he would walk down the Nelson College steps to play for the First XV. He thought back to playing as a young boy for Stoke at Greenmeadows, where he would wake up early every Saturday, pull on his boots and looking forward to playing the game he loved.
But this evening, Nelson was 9000km and another world away.
Here, Mitch was on the cusp of a dream.
“As a young fellah all you ever want to do is play for the All Blacks.”
That night, Mitch did just that and put his mark on a game that has been his life since leaving school almost six years ago.
“To tick that box in Japan is something I’ll remember forever.”
But only a year earlier Mitch was on the opposite side of the field to the All Blacks – taking on New Zealand’s team at Twickenham as part of a Barbarian side.
Just ten days after that, Mitch came off the bench for the All Blacks against a French XV in Lyon.
“To say I’ve played against them and for them is pretty cool.”
But Mitch says the experience only made him hungrier. Players were presented with an All Black number but not a test cap.
“It definitely lit the fire inside to hopefully get back in that environment.”
Mitch says he grew up around rugby and loved it since a young age.
He led a star-studded college side which featured fellow All Black David Havili and Crusaders Mitch Hunt, and Quintin Strange. The side enjoyed a dream run which culminated in a UC Championship final after pipping Christchurch Boys in the semifinal.
But he was also a talented cricketer, representing the Nelson Griffins.
“I always loved my cricket, still really proud to be associated with the Stoke club and I try to get back for a game most summers.”
Though due to the nature of the professional sporting season Mitch was forced to make a choice.
“I made the call itself after school, I had to veer in one direction and I took the footy path.”
After finishing school, Mitch decided to pursue his dream outside the region. He moved to Christchurch in 2013 with no contract prospects and started a building apprenticeship.
He made an impact on the club footy scene and was called up to the Canterbury team later that year and “the rest is history”.
Mitch thrived in the Canterbury environment and soon became a regular fixture at halfback. He has racked up four NPC titles with the Red and Blacks and was named captain of the team in 2018.
The native Nelsonian says while he never imagined playing for the province, he is proud to have represented Canterbury.
“I’ll still always be a Nelson kid.”
His roots in the region always causes a test of loyalties when the side meet the Mako.
“Especially these days, some of my best mates play for that team. I also have got a lot of family that come to the games and I’m never sure who they are cheering for.”
Mitch broke Mako hearts earlier this season knocking the high-flying side out of the Mitre 10 Cup at Trafalgar Park. His 64th minute try guided Canterbury to a 21-16 win to book its spot in the final.
“It was a funny sort of feeling, I don’t think I made to many friends that night,” he jokes.
While Mitch has enjoyed a meteoric rise and won a slew of titles, it hasn’t all been a rosy ride.
He suffered a serious injury set back in 2016 which threatened to curtail his career.
After just three Mitre 10 Cup games in, Mitch broke his leg at training.
The setback saw him struggle to sit on the sidelines but ultimately helped him grow as a player and a person.
“Once I pickled my bottom lip up and realized I wasn’t going to be playing, my mindset changed but it wasn’t easy.”
He says it allowed him to see the game from a different perspective.
“When you go from training every day to not being able to walk yourself to the toilet it changes everything, having gone through that I appreciate every time I get to play.”
It also got him to think about life after rugby.
“Mum keeps hounding me, nothing sticks out but something I am working with because footy is such a short part of our lives, it’s going to end at some stage some hopefully at end of career will have something to fall into.”
He says the key will be to keep playing rugby for the same reason he did all those years ago when he was just a boy playing for Stoke Rugby Club.
“I just love playing with my mates and it’s amazing what you can achieve when you enjoy what you’re doing.”