Ethan Roots delivered his man-of-the-match England debut unaware that his mum was watching on in the Stadio Olimpico crowd.
Roots produced a bullish international bow as England edged past Italy 27-24 in Rome on Saturday, and was then surprised straight afterwards by mum Cara’s flying visit from New Zealand.
Kiwi native Roots qualifies for the Red Rose team through his English father, catching head coach Steve Borthwick’s attention with first Ospreys and now Exeter.
The 26-year-old enjoyed a hugely promising maiden Six Nations outing, then later explained how his family sprung his mum’s surprise visit on him.
“My dad is back in Auckland but my mum flew out and surprised me,” said Roots. “I saw her for the first time in quite a while after the match.
“That was pretty special, she arrived on Friday night. I don’t know how she planned it at all. She and my partner Tessa landed at the same time. I went and saw my partner yesterday, and she kept it under wraps.
“It was a nice surprise. It’s a long trip but she’s going to see my brother when she is in London and hopefully catch another game.”
Roots has found his niche at Exeter, blossoming into a back-row forward that World Cup winner Richard Hill was moved to point out to Borthwick.
The Auckland-born flanker forced his way into the Crusaders’ Super Rugby ranks but only made one appearance, in 2020, turning out for the Maori All Blacks in the same campaign.
A testing lockdown almost saw him walk away from the sport, but then Ospreys handed him a lifeline that he seized with both hands. Now looking back on that troubling hiatus as a fully fledged Test player, Roots revealed his relief that he did not throw in the towel.
“The last six or seven months have been pretty hard to process,” said Roots.
“Everything has happened really quickly and everything has gone really well for me.
“I had a bit of a rough patch in the past and came out of the end of it. I was lucky when I came out of it to still be in a professional set-up and I fell back into it; I fell back in love. I am so glad that I stuck at it, just being in camp, just playing rugby professionally again and enjoying it.”