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29 November 2016

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Shneil Singh could be New Zealand’s first Indian 'All Black in the making'

Shneil Singh could be New Zealand’s first Indian 'All Black in the making'

New Zealand’s first Indian 'All Black in the making' couldn't be more Kiwi after growing up on a farm in Waikato.

Shneil Singh was one of eight Waikato juniors called into Craig Philpott’s first New Zealand under-20s squad, the Baby Blacks, this week.

International recognition comes as no surprise to Singh’s club and school coaches, who tip the 19-year-old for the very top.

Singh’s family are as Kiwi can be, though, says Andrew Gibbs, first XV head coach at St Paul’s in Hamilton, who switched Singh from a midfield back to lock 'because he was growing into a big lump'.

It’s at lock where Singh has flourished, playing for Morrinsville Sports in Waikato premier club rugby, and for Waikato’s talented juniors, who are national champions after winning the Jock Hobbs Memorial tournament in Taupo in August.

Gibbs said Singh is one the most outstanding young men he’s coached in his time at St Paul’s.

"He’s a very mature young man, and that probably comes through having to work on a farm from a young age and milk cows," said Gibbs.

Singh’s family live in Gordonton and own a farm in Orini in North Waikato. His father, Balraj, coaches at Taupiri rugby club and his mother, Hardeep, drove him to 6am trainings before picking him up again in the evenings.

Singh has two brothers, who also play rugby, and a cousin, Arjun, who has been a fullback for Manawatu’s juniors this year.

The first member of their family who left India for New Zealand was Singh’s great grandfather, who used to work at the Horotiu meatworks just north of Hamilton, and he walked 20km to work every morning and back home again in the evening.

He eventually saved up enough money to buy a small parcel of land, before getting some cows and their family has been farming there ever since.

Singh was playing senior club rugby year straight out of school for Morrinsville, who've struggled desperately in 2016 and have been relegated from Waikato’s premier competition.

But Morrinsville’s team manager, Brett Johnstone, said that hasn't stopped Singh from shining week in, week out.

"Someone said this young Shneil Singh is an All Black in the making," said Johnstone.

"He’s very shy and doesn't push his own barrel. I don't think he realises his potential. When I first looked at him, I said to him 'you're going to be the first Indian All Black'.

"Then when I saw him play, he was phenomenal and played a fantastic game of rugby."

Singh has also worked on the farm of Morrinsville’s Bs coach, Josh Janmaat, but he’s now finished up there to focus on the New Zealand under-20s, who hold a training camp in Palmerston North from December 1-7.

Waikato’s premier clubs have Singh on their radar, but his school coach Gibbs believes he is destined for bigger and better things.

New Zealand have had three Indian-born All Blacks – Sir Henry Braddon, Maurice Herrold and Barney O'Dowda – who were all born in the 1860/70s.

"One of things I've always said to Shneil, is that I feel like he’s going to be the first Super Rugby player of Indian descent," said Gibbs, who adds that he can grow into an All Black some day.

"It depends on how he continues to grow and develop. Skill wise definitely, but it just depends frame wise on how he finishes up."

Singh isn't thinking that far ahead, though.

"I just want to go as far as I can and make a career in rugby and All Blacks is obviously top of the chain."