Ian Foster has highlighted the ‘equally impressive’ performance of young lock Tupou Vaa’i after the All Blacks’ dominant 27-7 victory over the Wallabies in Bledisloe II – a player he says probably won’t get the same attention as rookie winger Caleb Clarke but deserves equal plaudits.
Clarke has garnered deserved attention from media and fans alike thanks to a sensational performance against the Australians on Sunday, including an almost unstoppable run just after halftime which led to an Ardie Savea try.
The 21-year-old winger has quickly drawn comparisons to late All Blacks legend Jonah Lomu for his storming, powerful runs down the left flank.
But Foster also made note of the performance of Clarke’s fellow rookie teammate Vaa’i, who also impressed in his first All Blacks start in the second row.
“You look at Tupou and he’s exactly the same boat,” Foster said of the 20-year-old lock. “He didn’t make the big 70 metre runs and probably not going to get the same headlines but I thought he was equally impressive for a young person.”
Vaa’i was handed the starting spot alongside Patrick Tuipulotu in the second row with Sam Whitelock nursing a head injury, and made the No 5 jersey his own.
His strong carries and safety under the lineout ball will calm anxieties over the All Blacks’ supposedly lean lock stocks, while the return of Scott Barrett to fitness will also add fresh firepower and experience to that department.
Foster said he was impressed with the maturity of both his young All Blacks starters and reiterated the “grounded” nature of Clarke, who has gone from young talent to worldwide sensation in one match.
“His expectations are set by himself, by his family and I guess by us in our environment. He’s fine,” Foster said about Clarke and the comparisons being made to Lomu. “What the world wants to say, that’s their business. I’m really confident that he’s grounded.
“He’s got a lot of self-belief and self-awareness in himself. Who knows, it’s a fickle world – you get headlines one day and you get shot down the next. You’ve just got to enjoy what you do and keep growing. He’s fully grounded in that area.
“There’s a lot of people that’s put a lot into bringing him up well. It’s a credit to them. But he’ll get challenges just like every player does.”
Foster said that as long as the young players in the side stay grounded, they will be able to take on any inevitable challenges that may arise.
“Part of our job is to let people know the important things that are to be valued and what’s not to be valued.”
The All Blacks will fly out to Sydney on Sunday for the start of the Springboks-less Rugby Championship, where they will prepare for their next clash against the Wallabies on October 31.
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