Newcastle Falcons have announced the signing of English flanker Connor Collett from New Zealand province, North Harbour.
The 22-year-old has enjoyed a remarkable rise over the past four seasons, originally leaving Kettering RFC and Stamford School to play club rugby in New Zealand with Massey RFC.
His performances for Massey were impressive enough to earn him a call-up to North Harbour’s provincial side for the Mitre 10 Cup Championship for the 2016 season, Collett playing all but one of their games and forming a key part of the side which defeated Otago to win the national final.
Topping North Harbour’s tackle count and winning their Most Promising Player and Premier Club Player of the Year awards in his first senior season, his eye-catching form continued during 2017 when he helped them to a third-placed finish in the top division of the Mitre 10 Cup.
Standing at 6 foot 1 and weighing 103 kg, Collett’s game is founded on work rate and defence, the former Stamford School captain making a total of 19 appearances for North Harbour over the past two seasons.
Newcastle Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards said: “Connor’s story is a really interesting one and I admire the way he has worked his way up through the system in New Zealand, having started in the club game.
“He is a real grafter who covers a lot of ground and makes a nuisance of himself around the field, his style fits in with our philosophy and he has been playing to a high standard with North Harbour.
“He is English, which helps, and he has shown a great degree of talent and determination to earn this opportunity. He is a very brave player, he defends on the front foot and he is good over the ball, so we’re looking forward to him starting with us. I really do rate him.”
Collett, who is in line to feature for the Falcons during next month’s Beachcomber World Club 10s in Mauritius, said: “I left for New Zealand straight out of school, and the plan was just to spend six months playing club rugby to get a bit of experience before starting university.
“It went a bit better than I expected, after the club season I got selected for North Harbour Under-19s and played for them in a national tournament, and from there I managed to get a development contract. That was turned into a full contract, and I played all but one of North Harbour’s senior games in a season which saw us beating Otago a national final and winning promotion into the top division.
“The following season we finished third in the top division, only losing by a few points to Canterbury in the semi-finals, and it was a great experience to be involved in that kind of set-up. You’re rubbing shoulders with Super Rugby players every day and we had a couple of All Blacks as well – I’ve learnt loads at North Harbour, but playing in the Premiership was always my goal.”
Delighted to have sealed his move to Newcastle, Collett said: “It’s maybe a bit of an unusual route for an English guy to take to earn a Premiership contract, but I like the fact that the Falcons are open to it.
“When you look at their squad they have a lot of guys who have come in via university, from part-time rugby or Championship clubs, as well as obviously the great academy they have up there. They’re a club who are very open to people from different routes as long as you’ve earned your chance, and I love the fact that the success they’ve had this season is founded on working for each other and a real team ethic.
“That’s pretty much what my game is based around, a lot of work rate, defence and getting around the park. I’m not someone to do the flashy stuff but I’ve learnt a lot from the very quick and skilful game they play out in New Zealand, and hopefully I can bring some of that back with me.”
The flanker becomes the Falcons’ sixth confirmed signing for next season following the previously announced arrivals of George McGuigan (Leicester Tigers), Logovi’i Mulipola (Leicester Tigers), Guy Graham (Hawick), Tom Arscott (Rouen) and Johnny Williams (London Irish).