Lawrence relishing return to NZ

Ollie Lawrence has some fond memories of Dunedin.

The English second five travelled to New Zealand on a school rugby tour in 2017, playing from Auckland to Dunedin, and he watched the Highlanders play the Reds at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

They even fitted in the final game of the British and Irish Lions tour at Eden Park and returned home with a record of three wins and two losses.

Ollie Lawrence carries the ball during the England captain’s run at Forsyth Barr Stadium...
Ollie Lawrence carries the ball during the England captain’s run at Forsyth Barr Stadium yesterday. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
"It’s quite cool to be back here seven years later actually wearing the England shirt, which is exciting", Lawrence said.

That tour gave Lawrence a taste of how much New Zealand embraced rugby — and that remained during this tour.

"Coming back and seeing how big rugby is for this nation, it’s exciting and it makes the whole experience, and being out there... with all the incredible spectators that are going to be there, even more special."

Lawrence, 24, will join Henry Slade in the centres for tonight’s game and was excited to get under the roof.

"It’s just like a huge opportunity, personally for me, and I think for the team.

"The way we’ve progressed over the last year, going into this series playing one of the best teams in the world with all the history they have behind them, it’s a huge opportunity for us and we’re really excited for it.

Lawrence, who has earned 24 caps since his debut in 2020, will face All Blacks vice-captain Jordie Barrett and Rieko Ione in the midfield, and welcomed the chance to come up against "world-class players".

"They’ve got a lot of caps behind them and Rieko himself off the back of a good season with the Blues.

"It’s going to be an interesting battle."

Facing the haka for the first time was another element he was excited to embrace as part of New Zealand’s tradition, along with the noise playing under the covered roof would offer.

England scrum coach Tom Harrison said the stadium was unique and getting to play the All Blacks under cover added to the atmosphere.

"I think the noise from the crowd ... will be exceptional", Harrison said.

"From a coaching point of view, it’s a massive challenge but it’s also exciting. The chance to potentially create history - players have spoken about it.

"Some players that have got many caps have not played New Zealand before. There’s underlining excitement about this experience."