After a whirlwind experience, Ethan Roots steps forward to provide England with a solid base.
Life has been full of surprises for England’s new back-row Ethan Roots of late. First there was a call-up by Steve Borthwick just a few months after arriving at Exeter, then came a first start against Italy last Saturday and a man‑of‑the‑match award to go with it. Nothing tops the surprise he got afterwards, however, upon learning that his mother, Cara, had flown out from New Zealand to watch the Auckland-born flanker make his debut.
“My dad is back in Auckland but my mum flew out and surprised me,” says Roots. “I saw her for the first time in quite a while. That was pretty special as well. She arrived [the night before the game]. I don’t know how she planned it all. Her and my partner landed at the same time. They kept it under wraps. It was a nice surprise.
“I received messages from my parents, partner, brother, and other family members before the game. It was an emotional moment for me as they are a big source of motivation for my performance and success.”
Ethan’s experience has been even more tumultuous than Mrs. Roots’. As a teenager in New Zealand, he pursued a career in cage fighting before ultimately returning to rugby. He played for both the Crusaders and the Māori All Blacks, but had doubts about his future in the sport. However, a move to the Ospreys in 2021 reignited his passion for the game. This caught the attention of both Exeter’s Rob Baxter, who recognized that Ethan was eligible to play for England through his father, and England team manager and World Cup-winning flanker Richard Hill, who brought him to the attention of Borthwick.
“The past six to seven months have been challenging for me,” the 26-year-old expresses. “Things have progressed rapidly and I’ve had a lot of success. I faced some difficulties but managed to overcome them. I was fortunate enough to still have a career in the professional realm and my passion for the sport was reignited.”
Roots is a no-frills flanker who caught the eye in England’s 27-24 victory in Rome for his direct carrying – something Borthwick’s side do not have in abundance – including one notable gallop down the left wing. Equally, he has impressed Borthwick with his manner around the camp, wasting no time in bringing his voice to a squad that has lost a number of senior figures since the World Cup.
“Did you notice how confident he looked, even in his first game?” Borthwick remarked. “I was impressed from the moment he joined the team. On the first day of training, we had a fitness session in the afternoon. One thing that stood out was how he interacted and communicated with his teammates.”
The players were mostly working in pairs, so I observed their interactions. However, they eventually gathered together and one player stood out for being vocal, encouraging and demanding of others. This behavior was consistent with his personality at camp and it left a positive impression on me. Today, we saw that same leadership on the field. While I already knew he was a skilled player, I was impressed by his grounded and experienced character, as well as his commanding voice as a leader.
Roots recognizes that his abilities lie there, and following his remarkable performance against Italy, he is anticipated to have his first appearance for England at home against Wales on Saturday. This would bring him face to face with several ex-Ospreys colleagues.
“I excel at motivating others and being outspoken,” states Roots. “Many individuals advised me to find my voice when entering camp, and I made a conscious effort to do so. Steve simply encouraged everyone to bring their unique perspectives. The more opportunities I have to touch the ball, the more beneficial it is for both myself and the team.”
“I am familiar with many of the boys from Wales and it would be fantastic to have a chance to play against them. This is a significant event and it would be my inaugural Test at Twickenham, so I am filled with excitement.”