US Eagles prop Chris Baumann ready to push Wellington Lions' promotion bid
Chris Baumann looks every bit like a prop plucked from rural New Zealand to play for the Wellington Lions.
A scraggly mullet tickles the back of his neck, while a decent beard-moustache combo sits above a barrel-like chest.
But an American accent changes that image.
The 29-year-old from Colorado has nine caps for the United States Eagles to his name and arrived in Wellington on August 2, two days after winning the inaugural US PRO League rugby competition with the Denver Stampede.
The opportunity to play for Wellington was presented to him just days before that final by the Eagles' Kiwi forwards coach Marty Veale, a former North Harbour representative.
The quick turnaround meant he was on his way to New Zealand the day after the final.
"I missed the celebrations because I jumped on a flight the next day, but came straight here to watch the Hurricanes win a championship. Now we just need to get one with the Lions."
Promotion is the aim for Baumann and the Lions this season.
He wasn't here last year for the tough loss in the dying stages of the championship final against Hawke's Bay, but said the goal was simple: "Win the competition".
On a personal level, continuing his development ahead of games for the United States play later in the year was a priority.
"Just to continue to improve and keep the form going because we've got the Maori All Blacks in November, as well as a tour to Europe, so I want to train for that.
"I want to keep getting stronger and work on the small technical details and pick up as much as I can from the other players."
Baumann was a late starter in rugby, playing ice hockey and American football until his first year at the University of Wyoming where playing prop was more exciting than slogging it out in the trenches of a gridiron offensive or defensive line.
"It was better for me, because as a lineman you don't get to do too much - there's a lot more freedom in rugby."
He played club seasons in Scotland, Australia and Japan before making his Eagles debut against Tonga in 2015.
His first run for Wellington was their preseason win over Manawatu last Sunday, while he should play against Canterbury in their final preseason match on Friday before the season kicks off next weekend.
Baumann said he feels fortunate to be able to play this level of rugby in New Zealand.
"There is probably a 100 to one export ratio. For every 100 Kiwis that come over to the US to play, there is maybe one American who comes here. So it's a pretty special opportunity."
AT A GLANCE:
Birthplace: Steamboat Springs, Colorado
International caps: 9 (USA)
Height and weight: 1.83m, 118kg