Hunt's swift rise culminates in selection for northern tour

Dillon Hunt.
Dillon Hunt.
Dillon Hunt just gave his mother the perfect birthday present.

Hunt (22), the rugged Otago flanker, was named on Monday as one of five players who will fly to the United Kingdom to play for the Barbarians against the All Blacks on November 5 (NZ time).

He will then join up with the All Blacks for the French leg of their northern hemisphere tour.

Hunt is joined by Crusaders Richie Mo'unga and Mitchell Drummond, and Chiefs forwards Dominic Bird and Atu Moli.

The selection of Hunt is a continuation of a swift rise for the surveying student, who this time last year was not even in the Super Rugby set-up.

But a chance to get involved in Super Rugby pre-season with the Highlanders and then others sustaining injuries led to Hunt getting his chance. He took his opportunity and ended up playing 12 games for the franchise this season.

Hunt then kept up good form for Otago and it raised the eyebrows of national coach Steve Hansen. Hansen mentioned Hunt last month when discussing openside flankers and then went one step further when Hunt got his call-up this week.

It all came out of the blue for Hunt, who read of his selection in a media report on his phone on Monday. He was in Queenstown with the Otago side which had journeyed to the resort for a night out to mark the end of the season.

All Blacks manager Darren Shand got in touch later in the day to confirm it was actually true and Hunt would be heading off to London this weekend.

''I was sort of second guessing it really. All I had heard was media reports and what was happening,'' he said.

''It is taking a while to sink in. Just flying over my head, really. But yeah, it is pretty exciting.

''It is pretty crazy the way it has happened. But I'm just riding the wave.''

Hunt, who went to Westlake Boys' High School on Auckland's North Shore before heading south to study, said joining the Highlanders had undoubtedly helped his game.

''Just getting involved in a professional set-up. Just with all the coaches around you and the players who you can learn so much off. Just about being in that environment and doing that extra work after training.

''Storm [Scott] McLeod really helped me with all those skills, breaking my game down and working on all those little things.

''I've still got lots to work on. Catch and pass is a skill I've always got to work on.''

Hunt, who has played 13 games for Otago and is yet to get his blazer, was set to board the plane on Saturday.

Although it had not been finalised, the five additional players were probably looking at 10-12 days with the All Blacks in France.

The All Blacks play France on November 12 (NZ time) and then a French XV on November 15.

''We haven't been told anything. Potentially there is a chance against the French XV, but I'm not going to count my chickens at all.''

Hunt's mother, Hilary, had her birthday on Monday and he said his selection was a great birthday present for her.

He had one exam to sit over the coming weeks, but it had to be postponed as he was going to be overseas. He was likely to sit it when he got back.

Hunt's rise up the ranks showed just what can happen when a player was given a chance.

''I just grew in confidence and then being exposed to that higher level. My game stayed the same, but just being able to work with different guys and get more time on my game.''

Hunt has signed a two year deal with the Highlanders through to 2019. He had one paper to complete next year to complete his degree.

 

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