From Germany and Netherlands to ... the All Blacks? The European duo chasing a rugby dream

Two foreign forces are beginning to make waves on the New Zealand rugby scene.

Germany and the Netherlands are hardly rugby powerhouses but that's where Anton Segner and Fabian Holland's respective journeys began.

Now ensconced in New Zealand, pursuing their dreams of representing the All Blacks, the European prospects are rapidly rising through the ranks to chart unlikely pathways in the process.

Of the two, Segner is perhaps slightly ahead in his development having impressed in two games in four days for the Blues at No. 8 this season.

Born in Frankfurt, Segner grew up playing football and ice hockey before turning to rugby at his English-speaking school and progressing to represent Germany at under-16 level.

As a teenager Segner met Tasman's former development officer Tim Manawatu at his SC 1880 Frankfurt rugby club, and was encouraged to take up an initial six-month scholarship to Nelson College that first opened the door to New Zealand rugby.

In his maiden season Segner made the Nelson College first XV. The following year he was named captain. By the time he represented New Zealand at schoolboy level in 2018 and 2019, and then the national under-20 side, there was no returning home.

Segner played for the Crusaders under-18 side but after spotting him in his final year coaching Tasman, Blues coach Leon MacDonald was quick to swoop and table a three-year deal.

"I was impressed with him as a schoolboy and have followed him since," MacDonald said. "Not only does he have all the physical attributes and skill set, he has an outstanding work ethic."

In his first media appearance this year Segner rocked up with a nod to home on his feet - the Birkenstock sandal - but the 20-year-old left no doubt where his aspirations lie.

"Hopefully with what I'm doing over here I can help further the game back home as well. We'll see where things take me, but, at the moment, my focus is on the Blues and, from there, the All Blacks.

"All the challenges that lie ahead of me, I'm looking forward to them and see them all as opportunities, really.

"I'm absolutely loving every minute of living in Auckland surrounded by a great group of lads and management.

"I'm really grateful to get a decent amount of game time. The game is a lot faster and more physical at this level - those Moana Pasifika boys know how to hit. Hopefully I'll get another crack soon."

Training daily alongside All Blacks loose forwards Dalton Papalii, Akira Ioane, Hoskins Sotutu and fringe prospect Tom Robinson offers the ideal apprenticeship for someone comfortable at either openside or No 8.

"I'm learning heaps, especially in the detail of the tackle," Segner said. "Dalton is one of the masters of that so I'm trying to utilise him and around the leadership, how to deal with certain situations."

Back home, Segner's family closely monitor his every move. They have booked flights to watch him play live next month - as soon as the New Zealand border allows.

"Before and after every game my parents are on my case about the good stuff or some of the work-ons for next week. I'm getting heaps of messages from back home which is refreshing as well.

"My dad got into rugby after the first two years of me and my brothers playing the game. After that he got a ticket to the 2015 World Cup. He really enjoyed that occasion so that got him closer to the sport. As I've played more over here, he's got more and more into it.

"It will be awesome to catch up with them. The last time I saw them was Christmas 2019 so it will be almost two-and-a-half years."

While New Zealand boasts a plethora of loose forwards, locks aren't so plentiful. In that respect Holland may have an easier pathway to fulfilling his All Blacks dream.

The 19-year-old, 2.04m prospect emerged from a small village near Amsterdam and after spotting the All Blacks on television, his love of rugby sparked at five-years-old.

Holland moved to New Zealand four years ago on an initial six-month stint at Christchurch Boys' High School, where he was spotted by the Highlanders.

Since then, Holland's unmissable frame has seen him progress to the New Zealand schools and under-20s - alongside Segner - and debut for Otago and the Highlanders.

His unique story grabbed headlines last month prior to debuting off the bench for the Highlanders against the Blues, when Tony Brown half-heartedly suggested Holland taught himself English by listening to former All Blacks halfback Justin Marshall.

"He told us that he learned English watching rugby and listening to Justin Marshall commentate, so it's a bit of a concern really," Brown joked. "No, his love for the game, his love for the Highlanders and for New Zealand rugby is huge.

"He's so passionate about the game and so knowledgeable. He grew up being a first-five eighth in Holland, so being a 203cm-204cm lock with first five-eighth skills is pretty unique.

"He's an impressive man. He's come over to New Zealand from Holland for a reason, and that's to play professional rugby. I know he's going to be a good rugby player, we've just got to give him some time."

In some respects the hard part is behind Segner and Holland. Moving to the other side of the globe, away from family comforts and support systems, requires a major leap of faith. During COVID times especially the distance and isolation only enhances the challenge.

Both are fortunate now, though, that their development will not be rushed. They will be nurtured, given time to learn, grow into their bodies and add to their craft.

Stay fit and healthy, continue their diligent dedication, and in time they possess the potential to become the first German and Dutch prospects to don the revered black jersey.