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‘The pinnacle of my career’: Fainga'anuku eager to embrace World Cup ‘opportunity’

By Finn Morton
Leicester Fainga'anuku of New Zealand during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between New Zealand and Uruguay at Parc Olympique on October 5, 2023 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Lionel Hahn/Getty Images)

All Blacks selectors were forced to make a surprise call in the lead-up to their Rugby World Cup quarter-final showdown with Ireland as wing Mark Telea was stood down for disciplinary reasons.

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But when one door closes, another opens. With Telea unavailable to take on the world’s top-ranked side, All Blacks selectors called on last weekend’s hat-trick hero Leicester Fainga’anuku.

Fainga’anuku, 24, will wear the All Blacks’ famous No. 11 jersey when the New Zealanders run out onto the sacred turf at Stade de France on Sunday morning (NZT).

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The Toulon-bound utility is coming off a career-best season with the Crusaders in Super Rugby Pacific, but this is an all-new ballgame. This is Test match footy, and it’s a Rugby World Cup quarter-final no less.

For Fainga’anuku, this is simply “the pinnacle.”

“It’s the pinnacle of my career,” Fainga’anuku told reporters at Stade de France on Friday. “Every player, this is where they dream of being.

“It’s an opportunity to go out there and represent our nation. It’s an opportunity I do not take for granted. As a collective, we want to earn ourselves another week and get closer to the World Cup.”

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All Blacks coach Ian Foster confirmed in a press conference at the team hotel on Thursday that wing Telea had been stood down after breaching team “protocol.”

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It’s a costly blow for the All Blacks with Telea impressing during the World Cup so far. But Fainga’anuku is a handy replacement with the wing scoring a powerful hat-trick against Uruguay in Lyon.

The Tasman Mako and Crusaders representative even popped up at inside centre at one stage – a position he’d never played before. But Fainga’anuku should feel right at home outside of some genuinely world-class players.

Fainga’anuku joins a star-studded backline which, other than the absence of Mark Telea, is as many New Zealand rugby fans would’ve expected. It’s quite a settled team with Richie Mo’unga steering the attack from flyhalf.

“For me the first great opportunity was being named to come over and participate in a World Cup and represent my nation,” Fainga’anuku continued.

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“To be in this environment and this tournament is a massive pleasure. In our environment and brotherhood, whether you are in the 23 or not, you have the same purpose, same respect.

“To get here today didn’t take just the 23, it took the whole squad. Heading into tomorrow those boys that have the opportunity to play in the 23 are only showcasing the backbone of our squad.”

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Comments

2 Comments
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B.J. Spratt 253 days ago

Leicester Fainga’anuku well done. I hope you have a Great Game and good luck with Toulon. Absolutely a “Special Player” who will give 120% every time he plays.

He will develop further at Toulon playing against the “World’s Best Players”

When the NZRFU is cleaned out the “Rules will change and he will be available for the All Blacks”

If the other All Blacks had his Heart and “Mental Attitude” Ireland would have no show of winning.

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