Passion propels unlikely new NZ U20 rep

Fabian Holland claims possession in a lineout while playing for the Highlanders against the Force...
Fabian Holland claims possession in a lineout while playing for the Highlanders against the Force at Forsyth Barr Stadium last month. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Fabian Holland used to go to sleep between sheets with silver ferns on them — next month he will wear one on his chest.

The 19-year-old lock was one of seven Highlanders under-20 players selected in the New Zealand under-20 team.

When the side runs out for its opening match in the Oceania Championship in Australia on July 1, Holland will get his first chance to don the black jersey and silver fern.

Not bad for a teenager who grew up in a football-mad village in the Netherlands.

He would have been a demon in the box, too.

Send a cross his way and there is a very good chance the Dutchman would have nodded it into the goal.

He is 2.04m tall, after all.

Luckily for the New Zealand colts, he discovered rugby at an early age.

He was an oddity back home. Holland grew up in a "small village" near Amsterdam.

That small village is Castricum, which has a population of about 35,000.

Perhaps "small" takes on a new perspective when you have to duck under every doorway and tip the scales at 120kg.

Castricum was "soccer-mad", he said. Yes, they call it soccer there. And Fabian embraced the local passion to begin with.

"I used to play soccer when I was little and I played until I was 6," he said.

"But I just love physicality and just love using my size and I couldn’t really do that in football

... Then I stumbled across rugby."

His primary school ran a give-it-a-go programme where children could try different sports.

"As soon as I did my first training, I was in love. I was a different person."

It sparked an enormous passion which would rival that of the most avid supporter.

He discovered Super Rugby and the All Blacks via the internet.

"That is what ignited the dream pretty much."

That dream was to move to New Zealand and pursue a rugby career.

"As a kid, I had All Black posters on my wall. My bed sheets were covered with the silver fern. I became a mad fan," Holland said.

In 2014, the All Black Sevens visited his club and he got to meet the likes of DJ Forbes and Akira Ioane.

Holland is embraced by family members after the big win over the Force. PHOTO: THE HIGHLANDERS
Holland is embraced by family members after the big win over the Force. PHOTO: THE HIGHLANDERS
"Meeting those people was for me real special. It put oil on the flame."

His father was a Crusaders fan. His younger brother, Quinten, adopted the Chiefs as his team, but at least one of the Hollands had good taste.

Fabian picked the Highlanders. Good choice, too, because he eventually ended up in Dunedin and made his debut for the franchise in March against the Blues and achieved a second appearance in the big win over the Force in May.

His family was in the stand watching that night.

"To have my family here is something words can’t describe."

Holland arrived in New Zealand to chase his dream as a 16-year-old. He linked up with Christchurch Boys’ High School and was spotted by Kane Jury, who helped lure Holland further south, where he signed a development contract with the Highlanders.

You get the sense it was tough for him to be away from home and family.

But the rugby communities in both Christchurch and Dunedin help create a home away from home for the teenager.

"They’ve helped make the person and player that I am today. They always let me know that they know my family is not here but we are here and you are never alone."

Holland will not be the only lanky Dutch lock in Dunedin soon.

Quinten (16), who you will remember is a Chiefs fan, has already been out to Dunedin and returns next month to attend King’s High School and to chase his own dream of playing professional rugby.

"I’m a firm believer anything is possible as long as you work hard for it.

"It is awesome for me to see my brother taking that step and following his dream. I’ll try and help wherever I can to make that easier for him."

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