There’s no doubting the All Blacks’ 27-7 victory over the Wallabies in Auckland on Sunday was crucial in the grand scheme of the Bledisloe Cup series as the Kiwis aim to retain the coveted silverware for the 18th year running.
It was a match of particular significance for two members of Ian Foster’s squad, though, with previously uncapped duo Peter Umaga-Jensen and Alex Hodgman both making their test debuts off the bench.
Coming on in place of the blood-binned Anton Lienert-Brown midway through the opening stanza, Umaga-Jensen enjoyed two cameo appearances in either half before being forced from the field himself with a head knock.
Hodgman was also thrust into the action earlier than anticipated after incumbent All Blacks prop Joe Moody was taken from the field with a head injury of his own with about 10 minutes to play in the first half.
Both players accustomed themselves upon their introductions into international rugby, with Umaga-Jensen making a notable line break in the second half, while Hodgman proved a strong addition to the All Blacks both at the set piece and in general play.
That led All Blacks head coach Ian Foster to lather the duo in praise following his side’s win at Eden Park, making particular note of Umaga-Jensen’s efforts at late notice after he was called into the squad as an injury replacement to Rieko Ioane.
“Big wrap out here for Peter Umaga-Jensen,” Foster told reporters of the 22-year-old shortly after full-time.
“He’s been with us for a couple of weeks, earlier in the week, and then we sent him back to the Mitre 10 [Cup], and then he’s called in late.
“It’s disappointing he had to go off with a knock, but he doesn’t look out of place, so there’s some nice signs there.”
As for Hodgman, Foster was impressed with the way in which the 27-year-old handled the rigours of international rugby in front of his home crowd.
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“I was thrilled for him. He went on early, and to go into a test of that sort of magnitude on your home ground, in front of your family, and then to play the way he played, it was exciting,” Foster said.
“He should be really proud of it. He didn’t shirk away from anything, he got involved in that attack and the defence side of the game, and sometimes your first test can run by you pretty quickly, but he should be immensely proud of what he did.”
Hodgman, a former Fiji and New Zealand U20 representative who started his professional career with Canterbury and the Crusaders before moving north three years ago, took a more mindful view about the way his first cap came about.
“I guess my debut came at a cost for our team. I feel sorry for Joe Moody, it was unfortunate what happened. I was quite nervous seeing him go down. I just wish his family [well], and he’s going all good,” Hodgman said.
He was, however, proud of his achievement, attributing the milestone to his family and teammates.
“For myself, I’m a product of my environment. I felt my family, I felt my support, I felt these guys next to me and the boys in the changing room.
“I wouldn’t have been as confident going out there [without them], and I think with their support, they made it so much more easier to do my job.”
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