The second Fergus Hughes saw the rugby field at Nelson College, he fell in love with it.
It was 2015 and the schoolboy had just moved halfway around the world on short notice. Despite some apprehension about starting school in a new country, the loose forward knew as soon as he saw that field that he had found his new home.
“I saw how much of an awesome setting it was and got pretty excited, it’s beautiful.”
Now, the 18-year-old is the first XV vice-captain and has played 49 games on the trot – but the most important may be yet to come. This weekend the team takes on Christ’s College in the UC Championship semi-final.
Fergus moved to Nelson from Norwich, England on just three weeks’ notice, after his father got a job offer at Nelson Hospital.
He has since made plenty of memories on the field which has included Quad and Moascar Cup wins, but with his college career about to come to an end, he has just one more shot at winning the UC Championship.
After initially not enjoying the physical nature of the game as a youngster, Fergus has learned to love the rough stuff.
“I remember when I first started at under 9s, missing lots of tackles and not really caring.”
That is a far cry from the bruising style Fergus brings to the pitch for college every week as his work ethic has seen him become one of the side’s most consistent performers.
As a dual passport holder, Fergus is eligible to play for both England and Ireland and is unlikely to be lured to sign for NZ Rugby.
“I think it’s every young footy player’s dream to play for his country.”
He says as a young lad he modelled his game after English superstar Maro Itoje, but now he hopes to undertake university study in a rugby academy setting, likely in Ireland.
Nelson has enjoyed a stellar season in 2019, winning quad and finishing top of the table in the UC Champs.
Fergus says his side has potential to go even further and contest the national title.
“I think everyone believes we can do it, there’s no reason why we can’t.”
Nelson had a less than ideal warm up for the semi-final, with Mid Canterbury defaulting its final round robin game.
But Fergus says this is the strongest side he has been a part of after joining the first XV in 2017 as a lock in year 11.
“We are all really close, we are more of a family.”
Team manager Peter Grigg describes Fergus as a pugnacious yet thoughtful player with a mature, gregarious, but quirky personality.
With regular skipper Anton Segner injured, Fergus led the side to victory at Quad in Wellington last month.
The victory ranks as Fergus’ college career highlight so far.
“The Quad win in 2017 was great, but I think being with more of my close mates made it more special this year and just the way we won was so intense.”
But the focus has now shifted entirely to Saturday’s semi as the side chase a home final for the first time since 2007.
“Hopefully the best memory is yet to come.”
UC Championships semi-final:
Nelson vs Christ’s College, kick off 12pm at Nelson College
Dress up in Nelson College colours and receive a free Big Mac voucher.