It could almost be the ideal rugby experience for Tasman Makos midfielder Andy Symons at Blenheim's Lansdowne Park on Saturday.
Not only will he be part of a winning Tasman lineup set to take on the defending ITM Cup champions, but there's also an intriguing family twist to the encounter.
Depending on final selections, Symons will expect to be facing older brother, Matt, in Saturday's second-round clash, the two Englishmen each having made their ITM Cup debuts last weekend.
While 24-year-old Matt started at lock in Canterbury's convincing 30-6 win over Taranaki last Friday, 22-year-old Andy played a key role in Tasman's first-ever away win over Southland in Invercargill the following day. Two first-half penalty successes and the decisive break in the leadup to winger James Lowe's opening try clearly pointed to a solid first-up effort by Tasman's strapping midfield import.
"It was an awesome experience; it was just great to finally get my debut in ITM Cup rugby as well as for Tasman," said Symons.
"It was very physical, plenty of running. It was a really tough game but I thoroughly enjoyed it."
Now he's hoping for a crack at big brother. Born in Harlow, Essex, the siblings played together for the Dame Alice Owens School First XV in London, Andy at halfback and Matt at No 8.
Both have sprouted conspicuously since then, Andy now standing at an imposing 1.97m and Matt at 2m tall. Matt also captained this year's Crusaders Knights team.
They played against each other for the first time in Tasman's comprehensive 61-7 pre-season win over a Canterbury XV in Kaikoura, although Andy said this week that their only communication since last weekend had focused not on any trash talk ahead of Saturday's impending contest but rather about their respective debuts.
"We were both pretty excited about making our debuts. We spoke about that a little bit."
What's more, their mother, Sharon, and younger sister, Anna, will be in the crowd on Saturday, both having watched Matt play in Christchurch on Friday before heading to Invercargill.
For Andy, though, much of his focus this week has been about building on his impressive outing in Invercargill in which he also unveiled his useful goalkicking ability.
"I was pretty happy with the first two kicks. My third one I struck it pretty well, it just didn't quite come back the way I wanted it to. I mis-kicked my last one but, yeah, I was pretty happy. It was my first game kicking for quite a while, so I was pretty happy."
He was nevertheless happy to hand the kicking duties to Billy Guyton who replaced injured first five-eighth Robbie Malneek during the first half.
"[Guyton's] an outstanding kicker. He's proved that through club [play], so I was fine with that. It meant I could concentrate on my game in other areas as well."
As a team, he said they were aware of the huge challenge facing them in Blenheim.
"We know we've got to be better to beat Canterbury, so there are a lot of areas to improve on, which is good, so that we can better ourselves.
"We showed a lot of courage. Our work ethic was second to none; we didn't stop working. I think the coaches were really happy with our work ethic and our preparation before the game."
He's already had a previous stint in New Zealand rugby when he played under former All Blacks Aaron Mauger and Reuben Thorne two seasons ago at Christchurch club High School Old Boys. So he's rubbed shoulders with some of the younger Canterbury players he's likely to meet on Saturday. And despite the absence of several frontline players, he knows that Canterbury will be determined to atone for last year's 25-23 loss to Tasman in Nelson.
"Canterbury sides are awesome, even when the All Blacks are called up, the depth is just remarkable, so it's going to be a tough game, no matter who's there. I can't wait, actually. It's going to be awesome."
- © Fairfax NZ News