Elliot Dixon credits a slow-burn relationship with Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph for his ascension to the All Blacks.
Off the back of two outstanding seasons with the Super Rugby champions, Dixon will make his New Zealand debut having been named to replace Jerome Kaino for the third Test against Wales in Dunedin.
The 26-year-old is delighted to achieve a long-held goal in his favoured position of blindside flanker and in front of supporters in his adopted home town.
The former national age group stand-out shifted south from Christchurch in 2011, the same year Joseph took charge of the under-performing Highlanders.
Injury and a lack of team results made it hard for the pair to initially gel.
“It was a pretty tricky couple of first years with him but me and him have grown up together a lot and it’s been awesome to have him as a mentor and a coach,” Elliot said.
Joseph played 20 Tests in the No.6 jersey from 1992-95, earning a reputation for his ruggedness.
This week, Joseph admitted Dixon was a vastly superior athlete and sent the player a text about how to approach his first Test.
He said to enjoy it as it will be over in a flash.
Nine-match Maori All Black Dixon is pleased to have several weeks’ training with the national side behind him as the step-up to Test level intensity has been steeper than he thought.
“I would have been a bit under-cooked if I went straight in in the first week,” he said.
Fellow-Highlanders loose forward Liam Squire is also poised to make his debut, but off the reserves bench.
Dixon says it will be reassuring to have a good friend alongside him at the haka, hinting the dynamic No.8 has been equally desperate to face the Welsh this month.
“He’s been trying to poison all the loose forwards to get into the team,” Dixon said.