If Dane Coles does call time on his Hurricanes and All Blacks career at the end of the season, as he’s previously hinted, then he will know that he’s leaving his jersey in responsible hands.
In Saturday evening’s loss to the Blues, Asafo Aumua was a man possessed. Everybody knows that the 23-year-old is an absolute wrecking ball with the pill in hand, but Aumua excelled across the park, equally at home dominating defenders as he was throwing the ball into the lineout or packing down for a scrum.
Aumua burst onto the scene in 2017 when he notched up five tries at the Under 20 World Championship. Three of those scores came in the competition final, when a New Zealand side boasting the talent of Caleb Clarke, Will Jordan and Luke Jacobson steamrolled their English counterparts 64-17.
Aumua also managed a hattrick in his provincial debut for Wellington a year prior and following his return from the Under 20s competition, Aumua re-affirmed his abilities by scoring a 60-metre solo effort.
His undeniable potential saw him earn a spot on the All Blacks’ 2017 end of year tour where he featured in two non-test matches.
While Aumua hasn’t necessarily developed quite as quickly as many may have hoped, given his obvious talent at a young age, some of that can be chalked up to the limited opportunities the 23-year-old has had to notch up minutes on the park.
For the All Blacks, Coles and Codie Taylor have dominated the No 2 jersey, while Aumua has been stuck behind Coles and Ricky Riccitelli at the Hurricanes. It wasn’t until the back-end of 2018 that Aumu was regularly starting for Wellington.
A minor injury to Coles paved the way for Aumua to earn his 12th start for the Hurricanes on Saturday and it’s fair to say that he took it with both hands.
Aumua finished the game with two barnstorming tries, 53 metres run (the most of anyone in his team), six beaten defenders (the most of anyone on the park) and two clean breaks.
He also completed six tackles and missed just one while the Hurricanes lineout was as steady as it’s ever looked, with just one minor slip-up occurring after Aumua had made way for Riccitelli.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 27, 2021
Hurricanes coach Jason Holland was understandably pleased with Aumua’s performance.
“He was powerful, wasn’t he? He was destroying things,” Holland said.
“He’s had a good pre-season and so that’s what we expected … with a guy of his talent. He was outstanding, I thought.”
Does the strong showing mean that when Coles returns from injury, he may find himself backing up his young protege?
Coles, of course, is a talismanic leader for the Hurricanes and comfortably the most experienced player that the Wellington side have at their disposal. Even at 34, Coles is still a dynamic ball-carrier and safe at the set-piece.
With seven physical and highly attritional games left to play in the Aotearoa regular season, Holland may find that a bit of rotation is necessary to get the best out of his troops – but at least he should be comfortable knowing that whether it’s Coles or Aumua starting, the Hurricanes won’t lack firepower in the front row.
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