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Consistent Samisoni Taukei'aho's performance against the Crusaders puts him right in the All Blacks frame

By Tom Vinicombe
Samisoni Taukei'aho. (Photo by Grant Down/Photosport)

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It wasn’t too long ago that Chiefs supporters used to hold their breath whenever hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho had the ball in his hands, ready to deliver the ball into the lineout.

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Like many other hookers around New Zealand, it was one part of Taukei’aho’s game with which he consistently struggled.

If the ball wasn’t missing its target or sailing into the opposition lock’s arms, the referee was inevitably whistling up play for a crooked throw.

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It was Taukei’aho’s lack of accuracy at lineout time that was undoubtedly to blame for his demotion to the Chiefs bench during last year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign.

While he opened the season as the first-choice No 2 in the absence of the injured Nathan Harris, Bradley Slater eventually took over as the starting hooker after a string of less than perfect performances from Taukei’aho.

That only seemed to exacerbate his lineout yips, however, which likely put coach Warren Gatland – himself a former hooker – in two minds about bringing on the powerful Tongan ball-runner to help close out matches.

It was an unfortunate situation for the 23-year-old because, despite all of his lineout woes, Taukei’aho was exemplary across the park.

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Behind Pita Gus Sowakula, the hooker was the Chiefs’ key ball-runner, regularly clocking up plenty of metres in attack thanks to his strong leg drive. Despite earning just 450 minutes of action during the year (the equivalent of just under six of the Chiefs’ matches), Taukei’aho was the Chiefs’ fifth most prolific carrier.

He was also the Chiefs’ ninth-top tackler and sixth amongst the forwards and had no qualms getting involved at the breakdown, securing three breakdown turnovers for his side.

All of that was redundant, however, when Taukei’aho couldn’t be relied upon to hit his jumpers at the lineout.

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In the space of less than a year, however, the hooker has completely turned things around. His lineout throwing has been exemplary throughout the Chiefs’ current campaign, with his side taking all 12 of their lineout feeds against a strong Crusaders locking combination on Saturday evening.

He was also unsurprisingly at the forefront of the Chiefs’ attacking effort in the 26-25 win, beating five defenders and notching up 43 running metres.

While Taukei’aho has been in bruisingly good form all year, All Blacks coach Ian Foster would have been especially impressed with his showing against the champion Crusaders – and was on hand at Waikato Stadium last night to witness the hooker’s performance in person.

Taukei’aho was approached to play for Tonga at the 2019 Rugby World Cup but turned down the opportunity, not wanting to rule himself out from All Blacks contention in the future.

If he can maintain his current form and accuracy at the lineouts, a call-up to the New Zealand national side wouldn’t be out of the question in the near future.

Codie Taylor and Dane Coles are the obvious front-runners while Asafo Aumua has come of age this year, but there are no guarantees that Coles will still be playing in two years at the Rugby World Cup in France.

Taukei’aho’s Chiefs teammate Nathan Harris is finally back from injury and put in a solid showing off the bench against the Crusaders while the Highlanders’ Liam Coltman has featured for the All Blacks in recent years.

Harris and Coltman are likely nearing the ends of their careers in NZ, however, while Taukei’aho, at 23, still has plenty to give.

For now, however, the focus will be on maintaining consistency for the Chiefs and helping his side earn a spot in the Super Rugby Aotearoa final – which could potentially be secured against the Hurricanes on Friday.

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Consistent Samisoni Taukei'aho's performance against the Crusaders puts him right in the All Blacks frame

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