Uren's loyalties very clear
Young Englishman Steve Uren may be on our side this season, but there will be no doubting where his loyalties lie tomorrow night.
The 20-year-old Bristol-born rugby player arrived in Marlborough at the beginning of April and has made an immediate impression for both his club, BNZ Partners Harlequins, and the Marlborough Red Devils.
Uren has arrived on these shores to further his rugby education after being identified as a rising star of English rugby.
Although he is thoroughly enjoying his time in New Zealand, he's not about to shift camps any time soon.
So when the All Blacks and England teams run onto Eden Park for tomorrow's first international, he will be right behind the men with the red rose on their chest.
"I'm a passionate England supporter, I'll certainly be wearing my English top." When pressed on the score, Uren admitted he wasn't confident of an English victory tomorrow but predicted his side would bounce back.
"We'll struggle in the first one and then win the next tests when the big guys are back", he said with a smile.
He may be a proud Englishman but, when it comes to role models, he looks no further than an All Black legend. "I like watching Richie McCaw play, I'm obviously not anything like him, but I've always admired the way he plays."
Uren first pulled on a pair of rugby boots aged 6. He played for a club called Keynsham before attending a strong rugby school, Filton College, from where he was chosen to represent his country.
An England international at under-16, 17 and 18 levels, the lively openside flanker played against France and Scotland before touring South Africa with the England under-18s, coming up against Wales, France and South Africa in the republic.
After leaving college, it was straight into fulltime professional rugby. The Bristol club offered him a two-year contract, becoming a member of their fulltime academy who trained alongside the first team.
He also made five performances for Bristol's top team before deciding to look abroad for opportunities.
After his agent contacted the Harlequins club and the Makos management, Uren found himself sitting on a plane to New Zealand.
He has been impressed by the effort put in to make him feel at home in his new surroundings. "I didn't know anyone when I landed, but Harlequins have looked after me really well. I feel I've fitted in well with all the boys there."
He shares a flat with fellow Harlequins newcomers Brandyn Laursen and Conor Hirini, just a decent punt from Lansdowne Park, so is immersing himself in Kiwi rugby culture. But the game itself is not the same as what he has become used to.
"It's definitely a different style of rugby from back home . . . in England we are more set piece-orientated," he explained.
"There are a lot more driving lineouts and more focus on the scrums, whereas over here it's a lot quicker and a more open style of rugby. I think that suits the way I like to play though . . . I much prefer it."
On Monday he played in the Cecil Shield match between the Marlborough Red Devils and Nelson Bays at Trafalgar Park, and relished the experience. "[It was] a big step up actually. It seemed a lot quicker and was definitely a lot more physical."
While Marlborough came off second-best on Monday, Uren is confident that, with more time together, they can turn the tables.
"On another day though, we can actually win that . . . they weren't 20 points better than us."
The Englishman's playing plans after the club rugby season ends are unclear and open-ended at this stage. Although he hopes he catches the eye of the Makos selectors, he is happy to be just playing the game at grassroots level.
"I'm really enjoying it, just keen to play as much rugby as I can.
"I'm going to do my best to try and play in the ITM Cup, but whatever happens it will be good to head home with a season of rugby in New Zealand on my CV."
- The Marlborough Express