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Former All Black's take on Tuivasa-Sheck: 'Probably the best cross-code debut'

By Sam Smith
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. (Photo by Derek Morrison/Photosport)

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Much of the focus heading into the second round of the Super Rugby Pacific season lay on the debut appearance of former rugby league star Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

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Tuivasa-Sheck was the most high-profile signing of the off-season with the 2018 Dally M Medal winner heading to the Blues where he’s linked up with other dangerous backs such as Beauden Barrett, Rieko Ioane and Caleb Clarke.

Although Tuivasa-Sheck hadn’t played union since his high school days, it’s fair to say that the hype surrounding the 28-year-old heading into the Blues’ opening match against the Hurricanes was through the roof.

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The Aotearoa Rugby Pod look back on the third round of Super Rugby Pacific.
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The Aotearoa Rugby Pod look back on the third round of Super Rugby Pacific.

Many in the know tried to temper expectations of the former Warriors and Panthers representative but after just one game of Super Rugby, it’s fair to suggest that Tuivasa-Sheck could have a massive future in the game.

Playing at inside centre, Tuivasa-Sheck finished the match with 11 carries, four beaten defenders and three offloads, and clocked up 50 metres will ball in hand. He also finished with 14 tackles to his name – the third-most of any player on the field.

While there were a few slip-ups here and there, including some loose play at the breakdown as well as one defensive misread in the final play of the match, it was an impressive debut from Tuivasa-Sheck.

Speaking on the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, former All Black James Parsons went so far as to suggest it was the most impressive cross-code debut of all time.

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“I would say it’s probably the best cross-code debut,” Parsons said. “If you think about Sonny [Bill Williams], he went to flanker first in Toulon and it took him a while to find his feet even when he came to the midfield here, and that was at NPC. Roger’s gone straight into Super Rugby.

“But I think it’s his ability of knowing the game, coming all the way through school. Yes there was a bit of a penalty where he didn’t release the ball but man, he just looked as good as those highlights when he was an 18-year-old kid, didn’t he? It was so impressive. I was kind of surprised. It was a real clear clinic except for one missed tackle, in my opinion.

“The power in his carry, his ability to always get between defenders and explode out the other side… And some of those carries off the kick-off, those are tough carries and he’s into it. I thought he was really good defensively. I know everyone’s going to look at that missed tackle and he probably just let Bailyn [Sullivan] get on the outside because of [Ben May’s] pass but he’s 14 tackles out of 17 in a tough area to defend.”

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Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall was in general agreement and was especially impressed with how quickly Tuivasa-Sheck has adjusted to the XV-man code, given he wasn’t able to play any games for Auckland during the NPC.

“If you’re thinking about it, he’s had two pre-season games and then he’s played the first game in Super Rugby in the weekend. I thought he was tremendous,” Hall said.

“Considering what you need to have as a 12 at this level. You can be classed as a battering ram, you can rarely do ball-runner and ball-carrier, which he did really well. You look at the fight through contact and that offload to Rieko early doors and then his footwork off kick-offs and even in general play as well, that left-foot step that we’ve seen so much in the Warriors and the Roosters, it’s really hard to defend.

“It’s just the subtle touches that I enjoyed seeing with Roger as well. There were a couple of times that he actually just squared up his man on the edge and then was able to fix a guy and then being able to give that ball away, which I think is a really good improvement from when you look at probably the first two pre-season games where he’s probably just tucked and carried … It just seemed like he was a triple threat and not [just] that go-forward carry ball, which I probably saw in the first two pre-season games.

“But really, really good debut and he’s only going to grow and get better the more time that he is playing.”

Both Hall and Parsons suggested that Tuivasa-Sheck would receive a call-up to the All Blacks this year with Parsons noting how he would be able to attract attention away from the nation’s various dangerous backs, thus creating more space to attack.

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“With his passing game, his ability to inject himself through defenders and offload is gonna be [massive],” Parsons said. “That’s what Sonny was known for, his ability to do that. A couple of times on the weekend he made that look easy when that is not easy. And if you can get it to someone like Rieks in space, [with] that pace…

“He’s gonna attract defensive attention now so it may be harder but what that does is it creates opportunities elsewhere. He’s gonna have some challenges he goes through. He’s a little bit of an unknown at the moment but the more video footage people get in this game, it’ll become harder for him but that then means they’re fixated on someone else which creates space.”

Tuivasa-Sheck will likely once again wear No 12 when the Blues take on the Chiefs at Eden Park this weekend.

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