MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ
German student Anton Segner has been in impressive form for the Nelson College First XV.
You'd almost swear he was a Kiwi.
There's little hint of Frankfurt-born Anton Segner's German accent, although it's been his physical bearing and conspicuous on-field presence in three outings with the Nelson College First XV this season that's screamed New Zealand grassroots rugby.
Fifteen-year-old Segner hails from a country steeped in football, Germany having won the last of their four World Cup crowns in 2014. But while he grew up playing football and ice hockey, it's been rugby that's dominated his sporting endeavours for the past four years. And now he's in New Zealand "living the dream".
He's been studying at an English-speaking school for the past six years and has spoken English all his life, which explains the hard-core English accent. But it's been his English schoolfriends and subsequently his five New Zealand coaches at his SC 1880 Frankfurt rugby club, including Tasman's former rugby development officer Tim Manawatu, that have now turned him irrevocably towards rugby.
Segner made an immediate impact with the club's under-12 team, even played for the German under-16 national side and now at 1.9m-tall and 96kg, he's continuing to make an impression at No 8 for Nelson College in this year's UC Championship secondary schools competition.
Older brother Fritz, 17, also plays for Frankfurt as an inside back although his nine-year-old brother Emil plays football.
Playing in Germany has meant accessibility to Irish, English and French opposition, including the London Irish Academy whose coach offered Segner a position.
"My parents wanted me to stay in Germany for one more year and I always wanted to come to New Zealand because the Kiwi coaches obviously always talked about this place and how awesome it is, how good the rugby is and how much I'm going to learn here," he said.
Manawatu, who had been playing in Italy, linked up with his younger brother Kieran at Frankfurt in 2011 and it was through his prompting that Segner eventually headed to Nelson College.
"He told me that Nelson College would be a good place to come ... I was offered a scholarship so I came here and I was really excited
Segner has already become Nelson College's main lineout target and has been an effective ball carrier in wins over Christ's College, Lincoln Combined Schools and Burnside HS, scoring two tries in last Saturday's comprehensive 74-7 win over Burnside.
"Although I've only played three games, I've learned heaps because back in Germany, our club didn't really have a lot of competition ... and I've gained a lot of confidence as well.
"This is just way more skilful, the skills here are a lot better than in Germany. But in Germany, the physicality is pretty good because there are some big boys."
He's been well schooled in rugby basics through his New Zealand coaches back in Germany but said he wanted "to keep improving on every aspect of the game".
"I want to get a bit faster and fitter ... just be explosive."
The initial plan was to stay in Nelson for half a year.
"But then I made the First XV and I asked my parents if I could stay til the end of this rugby season."
He's still negotiating with his parents about any longer term commitments although Segner's adamant that he wants to remain in New Zealand.
"When I came here, my goal was to get into the First XV and then into the Crusaders Academy, which I'm fighting for right now. And then if I make it into that, hopefully I can convince my parents that I can stay a bit longer."
His family's coming to Nelson in July when Nelson College host's this year's annual Quadrangular Trophy - and maybe another chance to impress on his parents the merits of a professional rugby career.