After four years, Asafo Aumua has finally earned his All Blacks start
Asafo Aumua made his first appearance for the All Blacks in a 31-22 win over the Barbarians on the 2017 end of year tour. Almost four years later, the wrecking ball is finally set for his run-on debut.
Aumua, who had originally been selected as an apprentice and wasn’t necessarily expected to earn any minutes, clocked up one further appearance on that tour. He was recalled into the All Blacks in 2019 ahead of the Rugby World Cup but never took the field, and earned one more cap off the bench last year.
2021 loomed as the first opportunity for Aumua to really start to accrue some minutes in the black jersey, as the nation’s third-best hooker, but ahead knock suffered against Tonga in the opening match of the international season meant he was set for a short stint on the sidelines, with Samisoni Taukei’aho called into the All Blacks as injury cover.
Taukei’aho has looked every bit a test-level hooker since earning his first cap against Fiji in late July – and that’s presented a new challenge for Aumua.
“Samisoni, I think, has been outstanding in his introduction to test rugby,” said Ian Foster on Friday after naming Aumua in the starting role and Taukei’aho as bench cover. “Certainly, he’s made every post a winner, the way he’s played.”
Now, however, is the right time for Aumua to prove his credentials, Foster said.
“I just felt, for Asafo, he’s been out for quite a while but he’s done a lot of training and he’s really confident in his body now and he knows the systems.
“I think, in some ways it’s just getting a read on and it gives him a full week to really just get calm and do what he needs to do so we’ve erred on that side. I think it’s just reward for him and [this game] gives him the best chance to succeed.”
Aumua’s knock – coupled with a niggly calf injury for Dane Coles – has seen Taukei’aho clock up five straight bench appearances for the All Blacks.
Sunday’s match with Argentina presents as the perfect opportunity for Aumua to remind the selectors – and the world – what the barnstorming hooker is capable of.
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“It’s his first start and he’s jumping out of his skin,” Foster said. “He had an unfortunate July series where through injury he wasn’t able to get [many minutes] on the park. We said we wanted to get him back into NPC to give him a few runs on the board and we got one, but we couldn’t get anymore, unfortunately.
“He’s ready to go. He was ready to go last week, he was disappointed he wasn’t in the group last week but I think we made a decision to go with the most recent battle-hardened players last week, so this is his time and really excited about how he’s going.
“He might take a little while to get used to it. It’s not easy in your first test start and you’re playing against a team that probably scrums differently to what he’d be used to and there’d be a lot of pressure at lineout time. He’s a quality young man and it’ll be a great experience for him.”
The 24-year-old first burst onto the scene when he scored seven tries over two seasons with the New Zealand Under 20 side in 2016 and 2017.
Sunday’s match with Argentina kicks off at 5:05pm AEST from Australia’s Gold Coast, before the Wallabies take on the Springboks at the same venue in the first of four Rugby Championship double-headers.
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