Thursday 14 December 2017

Jager: They like to throw you in the deep end over here

The 21-year-old has risen through the ranks after taking a punt and moving to New Zealand. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
The 21-year-old has risen through the ranks after taking a punt and moving to New Zealand. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

It wasn't a very enjoyable night for the majority of the Lions in Whangarei on Saturday, but one young man from Naas, Co Kildare, was living the dream.

Oliver Jager emerged from the dressing-rooms beaming from ear to ear. His team had lost, sure, but they had done themselves justice and more, and for an Irish kid who has travelled across the world to make his name it was a night he'll never forget.

His name isn't too familiar with the folks back home, but his reputation is growing in New Zealand. The 21-year-old (pictured) has risen through the ranks after taking a punt and moving there when he didn't pick up a Leinster contract after leaving school.

A contemporary of Garry Ringrose at Blackrock College, the former Ireland Schools prop took up an opportunity to visit Canterbury's International High Performance Unit at 17 and returned to play club rugby soon after.

He has gone on to play senior rugby for the province and earn a contract with unbeaten Crusaders in Super Rugby.

He has played three times for the first team this season and could be reunited with the Lions next Saturday when they visit Christchurch.

It's an opportunity the tighthead prop would relish having held his own against Joe Marler and Mako Vunipola on Saturday in front of his family, who made a flying visit to Northland to catch the highlight of his young career so far.

"I'd be absolutely stoked to get another game against them, another crack and go 1-1. We'll see how things go, hopefully I'll be named but we'll see," he said.

"It was a tough old match. There was a couple of times I could have done a wee bit better, but I'm still young and learning so every bit helps.

"When I first came over here I wasn't expecting to get this far at all. I came over for a month to play a wee bit of rugby and just experience it, but one thing led to another. I came back and got Academy (contract), got Mitre 10 and then Crusaders and now I'm playing the Lions.

"I didn't expect to get this far, but I'm bloody happy I did."

Irish tighthead props aren't exactly falling out of the skies, so the obvious question is whether he is up for a return home to try and one day force his way into the Ireland reckoning.

His year-long deal is up at the end of this season, but it sounds like he's keen to stay for a little while longer. It surely won't harm his development, but the IRFU will be keeping a close eye.

"I'm scrummaging against the likes of (Crusaders props) Wyatt Crockett, Joe Moody and Tim Perry week-in, week-out, and (hookers) Codie Taylor and Ben Funnell. You learn so much off them. I was nervous coming into the game, but I knew I was prepared. I knew I could handle it.

"They like to chuck you in the deep end over here, that's for sure.

"To be honest, that's when you learn the most. I've just had a wonderful season so far, I've enjoyed every minute of it and I just want it to keep going."

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