Oli Jager, the former Blackrock College tighthead prop, has re-signed for the Canterbury Crusaders until 2022.
The 24-year-old, who moved to Christchurch to play rugby straight after school in 2013, is now on course to represent the All Blacks in the coming seasons.
“There was a little bit of interest coming over from Europe,” said Jager. “This is my first choice. I have my life here and don’t really see myself going anywhere else. Nor do I want to.”
Jager turned down an offer from an Irish province, believed to be Ulster, although Leinster recently lost two young tightheads as Roman Salanoa moved to Munster and Jack Aungier joined Connacht.
“New Zealand is my number one pick. I want to get a starting role with the Crusaders but in the long run I have thought about [becoming an All Black]. It’s something I would love to do.”
Munster could also have made use of this 6' 4", 128kg frame having missed out on Daniel Brennan, son of Trevor, when the 21-year-old signed for Montpellier in 2018.
“It is such a big signing for the Crusaders to be able to lock Oli in for the next few years,” said Crusaders forwards coach Jase Ryan. “He has an unbelievable story coming over here in 2013 as a number eight to play a bit of club rugby.”
In fact Jager did play prop in school, where he won a Leinster senior cup medal, but he landed in New Zealand with aspirations of switching to backrow.
“I was working with the academy guys and this big Irish man kept hanging around our scrum sessions,” Ryan continued. “To play tighthead prop we had to completely rebuild his whole body, which he has done, but he has come a different route to most tightheads.
“It hasn’t been easy for him. He’s had a couple of tough injuries with his knee and his back as he grew into a man – but he was already a big lad.
“It’s a great story to tell because it’s a different one. Oli he has worked extremely hard, he’s made big sacrifices. I know he has thought through his training that it is not worth it, but he stuck at it.”
The previous long-term All Blacks at tight heads were fellow Crusaders Carl Hayman and Owen Franks, who moved to Harlequins after missing out on selection for the 2019 World Cup.
“You haven’t got a good scrum if you haven’t got a good tighthead prop,” said Ryan. “We rate him as being one of the great Crusaders. We look forward to seeing his career develop.”
Jager came through the underage ranks alongside Garry Ringrose and only left for New Zealand after being passed over by the Leinster academy.