Zar Lawrence, as you might expect, is a busy man. When I reached out to him through a mate to see if he’d like to catch up for a tradie profile, I was told that 7:30am Saturday morning was his next and only free slot for a phone call. As well as working as a full time site manager for Livingstone Builders, Zar is currently project managing the build of his own home – I’m no tradie, but that sounds like a lot. So, with my mate Nik and Zar sitting in a café in Papamoa eating breakfast – this was one of Zar’s requests for the interview – I gave him a call to learn a bit more about his journey from professional rugby to the worksite.
Zar’s love of rugby, it turns out, started where it usually starts for us Kiwis: playing with his mates at high school.
“I played league first when I was a young one, but my school didn’t really play league, so I started playing rugby with all the boys and having fun every weekend.”
It didn’t take long, however, for coaches to notice that Zar had something special about him. Zar grew up in Doubtless Bay, and he was soon selected for the rep team for the area.
“We had a game in Auckland and there were heaps of schools watching. I was offered scholarships by Kings and Mt Albert Grammar and I chose the one which gave me everything, which was Kings.”
While Zar refused to do anything but be humble for the entirety of the interview, I quickly concluded that he must have been a pretty good footy player to be offered an all-expenses-paid scholarship at Kings after they only saw him play one game. However, once school finished, he decided to stay in Auckland and do what most 18-year-olds do – chill with his mates and do a bit of labouring.
“I left school and started building and cruising along doing normal teenage stuff, like getting beers with the boys nearly every weekend.
“I knew a few boys who went into the Navy so I started playing rugby for them. I was playing three games every weekend – one for the colts, one for the development team, and one for the prems. These were back in the days when my body was made of rubber.”
“So, what changed?” I asked, genuinely wondering how he cracked the world of professional rugby with this approach to footy.
“It was my flat-mate,” Zar immediately replied. “He told me that I needed to take my rugby seriously or he’d kick me out of the house because he saw that I was wasting my time there. I was just enjoying life and drinking.
“So, I went and signed up for Takapuna. I just played one season there, and then got picked up by North Harbour… When I got that I started getting sponsorship stuff from them and thought, ‘I could do this more often,’ so I started working a bit harder and made a few other teams throughout the process.”
Again, I had to push past Zar’s humility to get a few more details about these ‘teams’ Zar spoke of (if I’d played international sport in any capacity, I certainly wouldn’t be just telling people I just ‘made a few teams throughout the process’ – that’s for sure).
“Titchy tapped me on the shoulder first… I did five or six years in the NZ Sevens, but that’s when you could play both (NZ Sevens and provincial rugby). We actually had to do this to make professional money back then.”
There have always been rumours about how hard Gordon Tietjens worked his players – and Zar quickly confirmed these.
“Our sort of era was based on actual hard work. We would just be rinsed every day. And that just created the culture that if everyone else is doing it, you don’t want to let anyone else down. It’s that basic: work hard, play hard. Everyone respected that – it was all accountability and hard work. We won a few titles and went through a phase of longest winning streak.
“I then ended up getting a couple cracks at the Maori All Blacks as well before Bay (Bay of Plenty) tapped me on the shoulder to come down. It was getting a bit stale at Harbour, so I went down there with a few of the boys from the sevens.
“I was off contract in 2011 and thought, ‘Na I’m not going to move back up north,’ so I just stayed down here and got into building. There were a few chats with teams, but I was getting on. I started when I was 24-25, and now I was struggling to keep up with these 18-year-olds.”
You’d think it’d be quite a transition going from travelling the world playing rugby to working on the tools, but Zar seemed to take it in his stride.
“It was a pretty easy transition because I started at building and then came back to it. I knew what I was getting myself into… I finished my apprenticeship once I got out of rugby. I got through it pretty quick – it only took me six or nine months to finish it.”
He started out working for his mother and father-in-law’s company but has since moved onto Livingstone Builders where he currently is a site manager. He still hasn’t forgotten about rugby altogether though, and is now taking the time to pass on his knowledge.
“I did a bit of coaching with the Mount Prems team for a bit and now I coach the young kids – it’s a lot less stressful. I coach my two sons (10 & 11) at the Arataki Rugby Club.”
Zar also told me here about his 14-year-old daughter and another older son, which immediately made me think back to his earlier comments – somehow he manages to project manage a build, coach, spend time with his four kids and work a full time construction job.
“So how do you cope with all this?” I asked.
“I have a supportive wife,” Zar laughed, before asking if I could put that in bold.
Thankfully, he doesn’t see coaching – or training apprentices – as a burden.
“Coaching and the development of that age group is a passion for me. I see them apply themselves with a bit of hard work and then accomplish things, like that team did. We only lost one game. One of our goals was to go undefeated and we only lost one, but this year we go into a competition grade, so hopefully we’ll win something. I’ve been coaching them since they were under 6s.
“I take that same approach with apprentices – they get it easy, not how we got treated with hammers getting thrown at us.”
As if all that wasn’t enough, Zar also doesn’t mind getting in the water and shooting a few fish when he has the opportunity – and in this regard, Papamoa is a good place to be.
“I got into spearfishing, and that seems to be a bit of an addiction. Whenever it is flat and clear, I go. I head off Rabbit Island or I got a couple mates who have a boat and we go out together. I got a kingie on my second shot I ever took up north which solidified my addiction. I’m trying to tick off as many species as I can.”
At this point I realised Zar’s breakfast was still untouched and probably cold, so I thanked him for his time and wished him all the best for another day at work. After hanging up, I couldn’t help but think that there are probably some young footy players out there reading this who aren’t sure about what life after rugby might look like. In this regard, look no further than Zar’s example – that same dedication to rugby, as he has shown, can be redirected towards creating a new, fulfilling future.
Article by: Ethan Neville