Super Rugby Pacific: Leaner, meaner Ethan de Groot out to remain All Blacks' first-choice front rower after pre-season transformation

After finishing 2022 as part of the All Blacks' first-choice front row, Ethan de Groot is desperate to stay there and avoid a repeat of a slow start to Super Rugby, when the Highlanders kick off their season on Saturday.

To help with that, de Groot has bypassed the All Blacks rest protocols over summer, instead returning to pre-season training in early December - two months before he was required to.

"It was hard," he told Newshub. "I've never had so much time off and last year, I got told to stay away and have a break.

"I fell behind from round one last year."

That slow start proved costly and de Groot was left out of the All Blacks squad for the series defeat to Ireland, but his omission proved a blessing in disguise. 

De Groot's comeback was an imposing one and the 24-year-old is now firmly the first-choice loosehead prop.

"I feel like I'm in a better spot now and way fitter than what I was last year.

"Last year, I was 135kg and ran a 5m 50s bronco," he continued. "Now, I'm 128kg and my bronco was 5m 14s."

At the heart of de Groot's resurgence were the sweeping changes made to the All Blacks coaching group in July. The front-rower is full of praise for the addition of Jason Ryan, whom he feels has transformed the way he plays.

Ethan de Groot for the Highlanders.
Ethan de Groot for the Highlanders. Photo credit: Photosport

"He took my game to a different level, around his style of coaching," said de Groot. "He's definitely a coach you really want to work hard for."

De Groot is ready to put in even more hard work this year, starting against the Blues on Saturday.

Join us at 7pm Saturday for live updates of the Highlanders v Blues Super Rugby Pacific clash