Crusaders set for talent logjam after utility back David Havili reveals his preferred playing position
Crusaders utility back David Havili has revealed he would prefer to play fullback this season as he targets a return to the All Blacks.
Havili was a standout for the Christchurch-based franchise in 2020 as he played a starring role for the side in between an emergency bowel surgery and a broken thumb both before and after New Zealand’s nationwide COVID-19 lockdown.
Flourishing in his utility role, the 26-year-old featured mostly at fullback last year, but also spent time at first-five, and is capable of covering in the midfield as well.
So good were Havili’s performances across the backline that many projected him to be included in Ian Foster’s All Blacks squad for the Bledisloe Cup and Tri-Nations, but his international prospects were scuppered by his thumb injury.
Now back at Crusaders headquarters for pre-season training after helping guide Tasman to a second successive Mitre 10 Cup title, questions have been raised over where he will be deployed following Braydon Ennor’s season-ending knee injury.
The one-test All Blacks midfielder ruptured his ACL while playing for the South Island in last year’s North vs South clash in Wellington, leaving the Crusaders without one of their key players.
Given his ability to play at second-five, Havili looms as a suitable replacement, but, as he told reporters on Wednesday, he sometimes views his versatility as a source of frustration as it is at fullback where he would rather play.
“I thrive on it, but, at the same time, it can be frustrating at times,” he said of his ability to play in three separate positions.
“But, any jersey that I put on for the Crusaders, I’m going to do my best for the team, whether that’s in the midfield or out the back, but I’m definitely looking forward to the challenge this year.”
However, just because he can play equally well in either position doesn’t necessarily mean Havili harbours an equal desire to play in both spots.
“There could be injuries all over the backline, so it definitely plays in my favour that I can play in a couple of other positions, but if I can get into the No. 15 position, [that’s] where I’m most preferred,” he said when asked if Ennor’s injury could see him move into the midfield.
Havili attributed the open style of play and aerial duels that comes with the No. 15 jersey as the reason why it’s his favourite position.
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— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 26, 2021
“I just think there’s a lot of freedom. You can pop up anywhere and it’s a good place to be when you’re at the back and you’re sort of taking high balls. I just really enjoy being at the back.”
As impressive as he was for the Crusaders while playing at fullback last year, Havili’s eagerness to play there could create a logjam of talent in the position given the presence of rising All Blacks star Will Jordan and injury cover Josh McKay.
Add to the mix the likes of All Blacks pair George Bridge and Sevu Reece, as well as talented youngster Leicester Fainga’anuku, and the Crusaders have a stacked outside back cohort which might force Havili into the No. 12 jersey.
It’s a predicament Crusaders assistant coach Scott Hansen feels his side are fortunate to have considering the depth of talent at their disposal.
“We’re lucky enough that we’ve got versatility there in Dave. We’ll put the best team that we can out each week and [pick] players in positions we feel can contribute,” he told reporters.
Hansen added that the value of having someone who can cover as many positions as Havili is significant, and noted that having players of that ilk is “one of the greatest strengths” for the Crusaders.
“I think it’s really important. You look at the selection, at what it gives you both on the field and the bench and the way you can play around with your player roster there, around your makeup, so it’s vital for us.
“We’re very lucky that we’ve got Davey that can fill all those roles, and not only fill them, but fill them as a world-class distributor.”
Regardless of where Havili ends up playing, the three-test All Black is eager to put his injury concerns and positional worries aside as he aims for a return to the international stage for the first time since 2017.
“I’m fully fit this year, which is quite nice to be. But, for me, just being competitive each week and really pushing what jersey I’m playing in each week and just being real consistent in what I do,” he said of what’s required of him for an All Blacks comeback.
“I think I’m playing really well and really consistent and hopefully I can carry on from what I started at Mitre 10 Cup level.”
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— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 27, 2021
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