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'Common sense has prevailed': The Crusaders prop set for Moana Pasifika debut

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

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Three-and-a-half weeks ago, Abraham Pole marked his Super Rugby Pacific debut by scoring a try for the Crusaders in their 33-12 victory over Moana Pasifika at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.

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Now the 20-year-old loosehead prop has jumped the fence and is primed to make his first appearance for Moana Pasifika against the Blues at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland on Tuesday.

It’s a groundbreaking feat for Pole, the non-contracted Super Rugby player who will play for two different franchises in the same season.

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Few, if any, of his predecessors have ever done that in the history of the competition, and, according to Moana Pasifika head coach Aaron Mauger, Pole’s unusual mid-season transfer is a reflection of the Covid uncertainty Super Rugby Pacific franchises currently face.

“As far as I know, yeah,” Mauger said when asked if New Zealand Rugby [NZR] has enabled Kiwi teams to pick non-contracted players, like Pole, despite them having already played for other teams this season.

“I think the old rule, as soon as you played, you were unavailable, but I think with the current conditions that we’re in, we want the best players playing around the country.

“I think common sense has prevailed from an [NZR] perspective, just a bit more lenient on those rules.”

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After having trained with the Crusaders as an injury replacement player over the course of pre-season, Pole went on to play twice for the Christchurch-based franchise, coming off the bench in his former side’s loss to the Chiefs little more than a fortnight ago.

During his time at the Crusaders, Pole earned high praise from assistant coach Jason Ryan, who labelled the Otago front rower as a “phenomenal” pick-up by the franchise.

“He’s been outstanding. His growth has been quite phenomenal. We hooked him out of Otago, did a little bit of homework on him. He’s gone from strength to strength,” Ryan said of Pole last month.

“I’ve got no doubt he’ll play Super Rugby this year. If it’s not for us, it might be for someone else. Obviously he’s in for us as injury cover and that sort of thing with a bit of depth but he’s unreal, going well.”

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Playing Super Rugby Pacific both for the Crusaders and someone else is exactly what Pole will do in the first-ever instalment of Auckland’s cross-town derby match in a rare mid-week fixture.

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His selection for that match comes after Mauger called him into his squad after hearing of Pole’s rave reviews from the Crusaders.

An overhaul of personnel from the team that registered Moana Pasifika’s first-ever win against the Hurricanes on Friday has since paved the way for Pole to earn a starting debut for his new side.

“Abraham came in last week. Been really impressed with him,” Mauger said of his new recruit.

“Good reports from the Crusaders, who I think would have been keen to hold onto him if they could have found a way, so that’s how highly they thought of him, but he was on our radar early on in a replacement pool.

“It just so happened that he was available, and we had a need with Isi Tu’ungafasi being ruled out for the season requiring neck surgery.

“Been really impressed with Abraham. He’s quite a quiet young man, but extremely diligent around learning his roles and connecting with our team and connecting with the players and he’s prepared well, so he’s ready to go tomorrow.”

Pole’s first port of call as a Moana Pasifika player will be to negate the threat of All Blacks prop Nepo Laulala, who he will pack down against when he faces the Blues.

The Blues have the luxury of having three of their four All Blacks props available for the match, with Alex Hodgman starting at loosehead prop, while Karl Tu’inukuafe has been named on the bench and is in line for his first match of the year.

Tu’inukuafe missed the opening rounds of Super Rugby Pacific after recovering from back surgery over the off-season, and Blues head coach Leon MacDonald is pleased to have the 25-test international back on deck.

“He’s coming back from relatively major back surgery. We’ve been working away with him in the background, so it’ll be his first run coming back,” MacDonald said on Monday.

“I know he’s pretty excited and feeling really good after what was a pretty successful operation. He was pretty sore there, so being able to run freely again has been positive.”

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