Only a handful of Englishmen have played in a New Zealand provincial rugby final.

Prop Kevin Yates of Wellington in 1999 against Auckland is one who springs to mind.

Saracens flyer Nathan Earle will turn out on the Canterbury right wing in Saturday night's Premiership decider against Tasman.

Tomorrow night, an unheralded 20-year-old tackling machine by the name of Connor Collett will take the field for North Harbour against Otago in the Dunedin Championship final. Prior to the Mitre 10 Cup, he was on a development contract with the union, having come off a second successful club season with Massey. So well did he go, and allowing for the fact he had to adapt to the problematic experimental breakdown laws, Collett won the union's premier club player of the year gong at last week's awards night.


He has played 10 of the 11 games for North Harbour in 2016 and made 133 tackles in all. Only Otago's James Lentjes, whom he will mark tomorrow night, has made more. He has missed more (14) than some first fives used to make in a season.

Collett is not a big man and is hardly a Sean O'Brien or Jordan Taufua carrying the ball. He offers less obvious qualities, work-rate uppermost, which Steve Jackson and his teammates see and appreciate.

He laughs when he is likened to former England flanker Joe Worsley, who tackled all day long and won 78 caps for his country. Collett would love to win one cap for his country, but he has added to his game since coming downunder last year.

"Work-rate and defence are the main parts of my game, but this year I've worked to push my attack a lot more," says Collett, who seems to have been welcomed in with open arms by his Harbour teammates.

"It's been massive for me. I came back on a development contract. I was aiming to get maybe a game or two, but to start for a few weeks... it's been going really well."

He came to the Massey club and Harbour union from the Kettering club in the east Midlands, not far from Northampton, where the Saints are based. Former North Harbour outside backs George and Ken Pisi have made a home there.

27 Oct, 2016 3:38pm
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Almost straight out of school, Collett decided a few months in New Zealand would be just the ticket for his game.

"It was supposed to be just for six months, just to get more experience, but I've extended it as it's been going so well," he says.

That means he will be back with Massey to defend their North Harbour club title, and with the union for the 2017 Mitre 10 Cup.

"The culture is fantastic. It's probably one of the best of the clubs I've been to, even back in England," he says.

"As a loosie, it's our job to work hard, and that's what Jacko likes. As a loose trio, we've worked really well over the last few weeks. Murphy (Taramai) is the ball carrier, Glenn (Preston) and I are more defensive players, though Glenn got the try last week."

So well has Collett played that he has leapfrogged Kane Jacobson and Josh Tyrell, both of whom came up from Waikato for a crack, in the No 7 pecking order.

He says his friends and family in England enjoy watching the coverage of his games. He hopes they will have reason to smile tomorrow night.

That club form for Massey caught Jackson's eye.

"He learned to carry the ball a bit more for club, but his defensive efforts were quite outstanding," Jackson says. "His work-rate is phenomenal, his ability to make tackles, carry the ball and get to his feet... you don't know how these guys will do out of club rugby until they get a taste of it, but he's justified his selection week-in, week-out."

Collett will one day be picked up by a UK Premiership club and one day, who knows, he might return to New Zealand wearing the white jersey and the red rose of England.

"Connor came to New Zealand because he wasn't getting an opportunity at the club he was at in England, and just look at him now. It won't be long before someone knocks on his door and says come home for a decent crack," says Jackson.

*Live commentary of the Otago-North Harbour match is on Radio Sport and iHeart Radio from 7.35pm on Friday.