David Havili vindicated by decision to stay after All Black return
David Havili’s return to the All Blacks for the first time in four years was a successful one, with the newly established second-five playing a crucial role in the All Blacks 57-23 victory over Fiji in Dunedin.
The midfielder helped set-up a strike play that saw fullback Jordie Barrett dive over untouched for the All Blacks’ first try, with Havili taking a colossal hit after timing his pass perfectly to Beauden Barrett at the back to free the backline.
Then he scored one himself outside his first five, cutting back against the grain from close range to slice through the defence to score next to the posts. He completed his double before halftime, getting a one-on-one matchup with openside flanker Mesulame Kunavula defending at 10 from another set-piece play and charging through the Fijian loosie.
“It was everything I expected, a few things went my way and a few things didn’t, so plenty to build off for next week,” Havili told media on Sunday afternoon.
“There was a few [nerves] just getting on the bus, I was just trying to soak up the atmosphere but once I got into the game with those first few carries, I was good and ready to go.”
After scoring his two tries in the first half, Havili then became the provider early in the second, offering the last pass to Crusaders’ teammate George Bridge to score untouched in the corner.
When asked whether his preferred position has changed from fullback to second five after his impressive All Black performance, Havili said it is becoming his preference the more time he gets at the position.
When called on by the Crusaders to play in the midfield this year, he was able to put together a compelling season for the national selectors and the stability of playing in one spot was a factor.
“I think it is slowly changing. It is good for me to have those strings to my bow as well. I think at the moment playing in the midfield is my main focus but 15 is still an option for me as well.
“Over the years I’ve jumped in-and-out of positions and it’s been good to be able to focus on one and get consistent performances together throughout Super Rugby and hopefully I can keep doing that at this international level.”
His re-introduction to test rugby was a testing one, with Fiji turning up with physicality and intensity that put the All Blacks under serious pressure. Havili stated the intensity out there was ‘a lot’ higher than Super Rugby.
“It was a lot higher than Super Rugby. They play with a lot of passion as well and I thought at times, we matched that. I enjoyed that, it was a good challenge for me.”
Havili formed a new centre pairing for Ian Foster’s backline with Rieko Ioane, after debutant Quinn Tupaea joined the Blues centre against Tonga. With the experience of Anton Lienert-Brown expected to be back soon, Havili said it would be key to build combinations with all the midfield options.
“I’ve never played with Anton [Lienert-Brown] before, but it is exciting for me to play with those guys.
“You play against them all year and to be able to play with them, try build those connections moving forward and grow those relationships through the midfield. It’s going to be key for me.”
It has been plenty of time since the last test match for the 26-year-old, a 23-18 loss to the Wallabies in Brisbane in late 2017, the return to the national set-up and first start in the black jersey was confirmation the decision to stay in New Zealand was the right one.
“I think for me, I didn’t want to leave too early and not look back on my career and think ‘what if’ so it was about me weighing up what was important,” he said.
“Staying in New Zealand, I thought I still had a lot of time left and chasing that black jersey was a massive goal of mine.
“Running out last night, definitely made it all worthwhile. I’m still buzzing a bit to be back in the jersey and extremely excited for what’s to come.”
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