Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby flanker Brendon O'Connor is eligible to play for England but don't expect to see him pulling on the English Rose in a hurry.
"That's in my back pocket for now. Growing up in New Zealand you always want to play for the All Blacks ... that's the long-term goal and the more immediate ones are to play well for the Magpies and the Blues," O'Connor, who qualifies for England through his grandmother, said yesterday.
A former Gisborne Boys' High School 1st XV captain for two years and 2011 Canterbury Colts captain, O'Connor was yesterday named captain of the Magpies after extending his contract through until the end of the 2015 season.
"I'm pretty excited about it and can't wait to return to the Bay to get the ITM Cup campaign going," O'Connor said from his Blues Auckland base.
"It was pretty disappointing we didn't make the Super playoffs and I would have liked more game time. But I was happy with how I went when I got my chance," O'Connor said.
A former Canterbury representative, O'Connor, 25, competes with captain Luke Braid for the Blues' No7 jersey.
"It's good competition for us two. I just have to keep trying to push my case and take my opportunities."
He pointed out fellow Magpie, first five-eighth Ihaia West, took his chances with the Blues and did well to finish the season as the starting first five-eighth.
O'Connor agreed there is sufficient talent in the Magpies squad to win this season's championship and gain promotion to the premiership.
"It was a bit gutting just missing out at the last hurdle last season. But we've got a good squad and should go well ... it should be an exciting season."
Magpies head coach Craig Philpott, who was O'Connor's Canterbury Colts coach, said O'Connor was the perfect choice for the captaincy following Mike Coman's departure to Scotland after the 2013 season.
"He was our MVP last year and played virtually every minute of every game he was selected for. He is likely to be on the field most of the time, particularly with his ability to cover all three loose-forward spots. For instance, if Tony Lamborn was going well at No7 Brendon could easily start at six or eight.
"He has got the respect of his teammates as well as all the team management ... he ticks all the boxes."
Philpott has named a 33-strong squad which will be in camp from Saturday next week when they play Taranaki in Stratford until the following Thursday when they play Bay of Plenty in Rotorua. While his Hurricanes and Blues players will be available for the camp, his Chiefs, Highlanders and sole Crusader are likely to make brief appearances at the Rotorua-based camp but not play in the games.
The final Magpies ITM Cup squad will be named on August 8. Among the camp squad are 11 players yet to play a first-class game for the Magpies.
They are Canada's 2011 World Cup prop, Jason Marshall, his Hastings Rugby and Sports clubmate and fellow front-rower, Jason Long, Hastings New Zealand under-20s lock Geoff Cridge, Havelock North's Highlanders loosie, Gareth Evans, and former Kumuls rugby league player Ryan Tongia, Taradale flanker Tom Stanley and midfield back Billy Ropiha, the Napier Old Boys Marist trio of fullback-winger Liam Edwards and the halfback-first five-eighth combo of Ellery Wilson and Tyrone Elkington-MacDonald, and Clive's Chiefs star Robbie Fruean.
The selection of Hawke's Bay-born and bred Long, 23, is a major success story. Long, who has recovered from a finger injury collected in Wednesday night's trial, has been in the wider training group for the last three seasons but missed the cut come camp squad selection.
"Jason's selection is a reward for three years of hard work through the academy with Joe Payton. He has done everything right on and off the field. Jason can play one and three and I'll work on him as a back-up No2 also," Philpott said.
Ropiha is another Bay age-group product who has been rewarded for making massive progress this season. Philpott pointed out Ropiha was only an injury away from making a step up to the big time.
One player who won't turn out for the Magpies this season is 2013 New Zealand under-20s winger Penikolo Latu, who will have surgery on his knee injury next week and then embark on an eight-month rehabilitation programme.
"It appears it doesn't pay to be a winger in Hawke's Bay. Bucky [Richard Buckman] missed our 2012 season with an injury, Nick [McLennan] missed last year and now Peni this season," Philpott quipped.
Philpott said there is plenty of excitement surrounding the development team which boasts a mix of promising talent and experienced campaigners.
"All of the players in the development team are itching to step up. They know they are the next cab off the rank."
All of the players in the Magpies' camp squad won't be eligible for the eighth round of Hawke's Bay's Tui Maddison Trophy premier club competition today.
Although Carters Frame and Truss Taradale will miss six players, they will still start as favourites in their home game against Hawke's Bay Insurances Ltd Napier Old Boys Marist, who will miss five but don't boast the same depth as the Mighty Maroons. IMS Payroll Hastings Rugby and Sports should keep their semis hopes alive with a win against Tech Group of Companies Napier Technical at Elwood Park, likewise Tanalised Napier Pirate Rugby and Sports who host Tamatea, Progressive Meats Havelock North should remain unbeaten when they meet MAC at Flaxmere Park, and the Northfuels Central-Clive clash at Waipukurau is a potential thriller.