What makes the selections of both Ta’avao and Tu’inikuafe so amazing is the fact that neither player had a Super Rugby contract at the start of the season.
After five weeks of competition, the Chiefs had just one of their originally contracted props available; Aidan Ross. In week nine, Ross’ season was cut short after he broke his leg and became the sixth Chiefs prop lost since the start of the campaign.
Ta’avao told Radio Sport,”I was only supposed to be with the Chiefs until January. I never thought too much about the next level – I was just enjoying playing.”
The Chiefs’ injury crisis meant Ta’avao stuck around – he has since signed a two-year deal with the club – as he helped anchor one of Super Rugby’s most effective scrums. The front-rower excelled, playing 17 games and logging more minutes than any Chiefs forward – an impressive feat for a prop – and the second-most of any prop in the competition.
After establishing himself as a mainstay in the No. 3 jersey, Ta’avao helped the Chiefs win 112 scrums – third most in Super Rugby – at a success rate of 100%.
The scrum has been an area of vast improvement for Ta’avao.
“The big question of me has always been my scrummaging and I feel I have stepped up this year,” he said. “The Chiefs had a solid scrum and worked well as a pack.”
“I also picked up a couple of routines in Sydney to help strengthen my lower back – I’ve had issues going on in my earlier seasons.”
All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen had plenty of praise for the hard-working forward.
“Angus had a big season for the Chiefs during the Super Rugby season, was part of a very good Chiefs pack and has made big strides on the technical aspects of his position,” Hansen said in a statement Thursday. “We look forward to him joining the squad.”
Ta’avao’s journey to the national side, while it may now seem a whirlwind, is the culmination of years of hard work full of ups and downs.
Born in Auckland, Ta’avao began his career with his home province, who he represented from 2010 to 2013. His work with Auckland saw him earn his first Super Rugby contract, spending three years with the Blues from 2012.
A journey across the ditch then saw Ta’avao join the Sydney-based Waratahs, where he plied his trade from 2015 to 2017 and trained with the Wallabies – who he is eligible for through his mother.
Ta’avao’s return to New Zealand – and third attempt at Super Rugby – proved to be his most successful. Re-joining and captaining Taranaki for the 2017 and 2018 Mitre 10 Cup seasons exemplifies the high regard he is held in.
He will join the All Blacks in Nelson this weekend as they prepare to host Argentina on the 8th of September.
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