Mitchell Drummond will only have to glance across the changing shed to see how far his rugby career has come in the space of 12 months.
This time last year Mitchell was the captain of the Nelson College first XV – or more simply an 18 year old year studying for NCEA exams. But this week he achieved a feat no ordinary teenager will reach – he was named in the Crusaders squad for the 2014 Super Rugby season.
At 19 years old Mitchell is easily the youngest member of the team which is often revered for being historically the greatest ever franchise. While the Crusaders haven’t won a championship under coach Todd Blackadder, the roster is still stacked full of global superstars. Daniel Carter might be on a sabbatical for most of next season, but Mitchell’s new team mates include Richie McCaw, Kieran Read and a casual 17 other past or present All Blacks. “I’ve always wanted to be a Crusader so to have it happen at 19 is unreal. This time last year I was sitting there and watching them on TV and now I’m going to be turning up to the same training as team-mates,” he says. “I still have to pinch myself.”
When Mitchell left Nelson College at the end of last year he had a big decision to make – stay in Nelson and play for the Tasman Makos or head to Christchurch and force his way through the Canterbury set-up. With no guarantees that he’d be picked up by Canterbury, Mitchell turned down an offer with Tasman and shifted south.
In hindsight the move has certainly paid off, making his ITM Cup debut against Manawatu in Christchurch and now signing a two year deal with the Crusaders.
“It was tough to move away but I’m just grateful everything has worked out the way it has. I wanted to move out of home and do my own thing. I wanted a new challenge outside of sport like cooking, doing my own washing and that was a challenge in itself,” he explains when asked about his move out of Nelson.
Just like at ITM Cup level, Mitchell will be third choice halfback behind Andy Ellis and Willi Heinz, but for the moment he’s happy to bide his time and learn as much as possible. “They’re both real good guys, they’re best of mates and they’ve welcomed me in. I just want to work as hard as I can in that first year and whatever happens, happens.”
There’s also a good chance Mitchell will get an early taste of Super Rugby in a reasonably familiar setting with the announcement that the Crusaders will host the Highlanders in Motueka for a pre-season match on February 7. “My old man is born and bred in Mot so to have him there and all my family and friends will be awesome and I’m really looking forward to it.”