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Dalton Papalii's cheeky dig at former All Blacks flanker

By Alex McLeod

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All Blacks flanker Dalton Papalii has taken a cheeky dig at one of his predecessors in the lead-up to New Zealand’s season-opening test against Tonga.

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Papalii has been named to start at openside flanker for Saturday’s clash at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland in what is widely-viewed as good reward for a stellar Super Rugby season with the Blues.

The four-test international is in esteemed company when it comes to those who have worn the No. 7 jersey for New Zealand.

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The most famous is, of course, two-time World Cup-winning All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, while, in recent years, current skipper Sam Cane and Ardie Savea have jostled for the openside flanker spot.

Speaking to media on Thursday, Papalii listed all three as some of the best openside flankers New Zealand has produced.

“It’s just awesome to be in that jersey,” he said. “When I was growing up, that seven jersey was locked in by a couple of greats of the game. You’ve got the McCaw’s, the Ardie’s, Sammy Cane. They’ll come down as legends of the game.

“I’m just happy to go in there [to Mt Smart Stadium] and get amongst it.”

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While Papalii’s answer seemed innocuous enough, he didn’t include former All Blacks great Josh Kronfeld in his list, despite the 54-test international being present at the press conference as a reporter for Sky Sport‘s Crowd Goes Wild.

When asked by another journalist, “What about Josh?”, a roar of laughter filled the room as Papalii realised his notable omission.

“Oh yeah, I can’t forget, sorry, sorry. I was talking about the recents,” the 23-year-old said, before he and teammate Dane Coles laughed at the mishap.

Kronfeld played for the All Blacks between 1995 and 2000 and attended two World Cups with the national side before calling time on his playing days in 2003.

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Papalii still has some way to go before he can emulate Kronfeld – or McCaw, Cane and Savea – at international level, but the youngster is ready to stake his claim in the test arena after impressing on the Super Rugby scene in recent years.

 

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That form hasn’t yielded plenty of opportunities in the black jersey, though, as Papalii’s four test caps have been spread out across three years since his international debut against Japan in 2018.

His last two outings, against the Springboks in Wellington in 2019 and the Wallabies in Sydney last year, only saw him pick up a collective total of about 25 minutes of playing time Cane and Savea have dominated the No. 7 jersey.

In fact, this weekend will be the first time Papalii has started for the All Blacks since his test debut in Tokyo, so it’s no surprise he is chomping at the bit to face off against ‘Ikale Tahi.

“I’m just going to go out there and do my job. I’m not going to try think of all the razzle dazzle stuff. I’m learning my role in and out, the No. 7 role, and I’m just going to go out there and do the basics well because that’s what All Blacks are bought on.

“When you have a team that just knows their job and do the job right, then the one-or-two percenters will come along, so I’ve just got to nail that.”

Kick-off for Saturday’s match is scheduled for 7:05pm NZT.

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Dalton Papalii's cheeky dig at former All Blacks flanker

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