SHARE
Rowing to rugby . . . Mike Lawrence plays for Maheno against Valley at Weston last month. PHOTO: PHIL JANSSEN

Two years ago, Mike Lawrence was rowing against Olympic gold medallist Mahe Drysdale. He now finds himself playing club rugby on the other side of the world. Hayden Meikle catches up with Maheno’s English lock.

Q: How old are you, Mike?
I’m 23.

Q:What part of England are you from?
London. I was born south of the river but my folks moved to Bath when I was 12. Bath’s obviously a quite strong rugby town. I played rugby when I was at school but switched to rowing for a bit.

Q:You raced against Mahe Drysdale at the Henley Royal Regatta in 2015. What was that like?
I only just lost. He might have slowed down a little bit but I’ll take it. It was funny. All the way through the heats and the quarterfinal, I was pretty confident on the line. But when I got to the semifinal against Mahe, I was almost overly confident I was going to win, for some reason. I think the occasion got to me a bit. I thought the crowd was going to egg me on. But it was absolute class to be on the water with Mahe. I managed to have a wee paddle with him later and do a little bit of training with him.

Q: Why did you ditch rowing for rugby?
I did quite well in rowing. I represented England in home internationals and it was nice to be a part of that national squad. But I sort of missed being part of a team because I was competing in the single. So I just decided to pack it in because I wasn’t enjoying it any more. I switched back to rugby and realised I’d missed it. I wanted to be part of a team structure so I picked rugby back up again and joined London Scottish.

Q: How does your rugby body compare with your rowing body?
Oh, jeez. When I was rowing, I was down to about 89kg. I’m up around 114kg now. I can eat what I want, within reason. It’s a big change for me. Getting myself around the park is the key now. I’ve put on a bit of timber over the last season so there’s a fair bit to shed in the coming weeks.

Q: How have you ended up at Maheno?
I don’t really know, to be honest. My coach just recommended I look into it. When I was at uni, a guy I knew played in Australia, and he was going to try and set me up with a contract there. I saw this opportunity and they got in touch with me. Funnily enough, I’d just been having a chat with my girlfriend the night before about how she wanted to live in New Zealand. And here I am.

Q: Is your girlfriend with you?
Not yet. She’s coming out in about seven weeks. She plays hockey so she will be keen to find a team here.

Q: You arrived in New Zealand and played your first game for Maheno the same day. How did you enjoy that miserable Thursday-night game in the wet?
I don’t think I’ve ever played in anything like that. It was ridiculous, but it was great. Simple rugby in those conditions. It was nice to blow the cobwebs away. I think I fell asleep in the car on the way home.

Q: You’re joining a club that is on a massive high after last season. How have you found Maheno?
The team spirit here is nothing like I’ve ever been part of before. Everyone covers for each other. No-one is yelling at each other. There’s just patience. It’s a really nice club.