Debut rookie of year sets sights high

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by Chris Tobin

Former Timaru Boys’ High School First XV captain Cullen Grace (19) has made great progress in his blossoming rugby career this year.

“I’m stoked with how it has gone,” he said.

Grace had trained regularly with the Crusaders and appeared in pre-season matches for them and then made the New Zealand under-20 team to the Oceania championships, followed by the World Cup in Argentina where he played at lock.

“I had played most of the season at flanker but as soon as I got to the under-20s I played lock. I’m a hybrid.”

The under-20 World Cup did not go well for New Zealand, losing two matches and finishing seventh, but the losses were by tight margins.

Grace played the full 80 minutes in the opening match against Georgia (NZ won 45-13), and came on for the second-half against Scotland (NZ won 52-33).

He played almost the full game against South Africa (a 25-17 loss for NZ) and then didn’t start in a narrow 8-7 defeat against Wales.

In the final match against Ireland, Grace was subbed after 30 minutes, by which time New Zealand had shot out to a 26-0 lead, having scored four tries. The team ended up winning 40-17.

“In this game we were starting to come right and quicken the game.

“It was a good experience, especially to represent your country and experience a new culture and make new friends.

“I learned a lot from the coaches.”

Some of that newly acquired knowledge was used turning out for Canterbury in the Mitre 10 Cup campaign.

Grace had started the season weighing 103kg but by the time of his five appearances in the Mitre 10 team he was tipping the scales at 107kg.

The highlight came in a 42-12 win against Northland when he was named player of the day.

At the season’s end he was named Canterbury’s debut rookie of the year, a title he shared with Dallas McLeod.

Grace now has his sights set on making the Crusaders and then the All Blacks.

“Every player wants to play at the highest levels,” he said.

“I’ll just focus as much as I can and stay in the present.”