"We've done our homework" - Ollie Lawrence: From School Boy Tourist to All Blacks Opponent - Ruck

“We’ve done our homework” – Ollie Lawrence: From School Boy Tourist to All Blacks Opponent

Seven years ago, Ollie Lawrence arrived in New Zealand in awe of the mighty All Blacks. A fresh faced 17-year-old scholar, the centre first travelled to the land known as Aotearoa on a rugby tour with Bromsgrove school, and took on an assortment of the top institutions across the North and South Islands.

Lawrence’s school travelled across New Zealand in 2017, and followed alongside what was arguably a slightly more memorable tour between the All Blacks and the British & Irish Lions. Whilst the Worcestershire co-ed had it’s time in the sun against some of New Zealand’s top schoolboy sides, the Bath centre fondly remembered being in the famous ‘sea of red’, as the Lions battled New Zealand to a Test series draw.

Ollie Lawrence of England runs in a disallowed try during the Guinness Six Nations Match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on March 9th 2024. – PHOTO: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

“I don’t remember the last time they (England) played here. I was here in 2017 on a school rugby tour when the Lions played. I actually watched one of the games here (Forsyth Barr Stadium) when the Highlanders played the Reds, and at Eden Park I watched the final Test. So it is quite cool to be back here seven years later actually wearing the England shirt.”

“We kind of went all over the place. We played a team in Auckland, a team in Dunedin, a team in Rotorua and one team in Queenstown. We played a mixture of clubs and schools. I think we won three, lost two.”

Whilst Lawrence is certainly experiencing a different side to tour life as apart of the England squad, he expressed how the rugby-loving atmosphere around New Zealand has not changed since his first trip over. There is no understating how the Kiwis are rugby mad, with silver ferns and All Black endorsements popping up everywhere from Auckland to Dunedin. From hearing Kieran Read endorse a car insurance radio advert, to seeing Damian McKenzie’s iconic grin glinting off the face of a luxury watch, one sport dominates the rest in this far away land.

“Yeah, probably more so back then, because I went to all the schools and the clubs that we played against. So it was seeing all them growing up and seeing how big rugby was. Coming back and seeing how big rugby is for this nation is exciting and makes the whole experience and being out there with the incredible spectators even more special.”

“I think it is a huge opportunity. For me and the team, the way we have progressed over the last year going into this series, playing one of the best teams in the world with all the history they have behind them, is a huge opportunity for us and we are excited for it.”

Lawrence certainly recognises the test of the All Blacks, and despite no longer being enrolled at his former boarding school, the scholared centre has swatted up on his opponents with plenty of pre-match homework. Whilst the boarding school graduate has swapped the Bromsgrove maroon for Bath’s blue, black and white, Lawrence’s learnings were evident as he laid out his revised plan on how to deal with All Blacks centres Reiko Ioane and Jordie Barrett.

“It’s pretty exciting. Obviously they’re world class players and they’ve got a lot of caps behind them and obviously Rico himself off the back of a good season in the blues. But yeah, we’ve obviously done our homework this week, looked at some clips and stuff of where we think we can challenge them, but no, it’s going to be an interesting battle. 

“Obviously got me and Sladey going against them. And yeah, just looking forward to the opportunity really, to go out there and go head to head with some of the best players.”

Lawrence has been named to start in the centres for Steve Borthwick’s side, and one of the main aspects of the incoming Test he’s excited for is facing the immortalised haka. You simply can’t downplay the excitement that the cultural tradition evokes from the All Blacks and opposition fans, with Lawrence eager to face the gauntlet head-on, after watching from the sold out Eden Park stands seven years ago.

“It’s them really like throwing down a challenge to the opposition. It’s something that you have to embrace you can’t be scared off or get intimidated by. It’s obviously such a huge tradition here to do that before a game. Obviously growing up as a kid watching, you look at it and you see all these legends of the game that have worn the all black shirt, all doing it. 

“And yeah, it’s I think it’s an incredible opportunity to take on that challenge and get going against these boys.”