Reports out of France earlier this week suggested that All Blacks and Hurricanes midfielder Ngani Laumape could be on the verge of signing to play in the Top 14.
It’s a move that would somewhat prematurely end the 27-year-old’s career and one that Super Rugby centurions James Parsons and Bryn Hall hope is nothing more than a rumour.
Following selection in the New Zealand secondary schools side, Laumape spent three seasons playing NRL with the Warriors before making the return to union in 2016, when he signed for the Hurricanes. While he didn’t immediately set the world alight, he slowly found his feet in the fifteen-man game and in 2017, earned a call-up to the national squad.
Lauampe has never locked down a spot in the All Blacks midfield, however, playing just 15 international matches over the past four years. Injuries have at times played their part in Laumape’s non-selection, but All Blacks coaches Steve Hansen and Ian Foster have also favoured the likes of Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty, Anton Lienert-Brown and even Jack Goodhue in the No 12 jersey.
Regardless, losing Laumape would be a huge hit to the Hurricanes and New Zealand rugby as whole.
“I don’t think he’s fulfilled his dream yet, has he?” said former All Blacks hooker Parsons on the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod. “I think he’s always played really well. He’s always been right there for the picking and probably the front runner for All Blacks selection and then he’s got injured.
“Again, this year, he’s in hot form again. He’s right in line to probably be starting for the All Blacks again.
“If he does go to France, I wish him well, obviously, but I hope he doesn’t because I think he’s got a huge All Blacks career ahead of him.”
While Laumape was at one stage known as a one-trick pony – a wrecking ball on attack but not someone with as diverse a skill set as other midfielders around the country – that perception has rightly changed in recent times.
“I think it’d be a shame for him to leave,” said Crusaders halfback Hall. “I agree with Jip, he’s got so much more to give in that All Blacks jersey.
“We’ve always known how dominant a ball-carrier Ngani is. He’s had a lot of success in that All Blacks jersey and in the Hurricanes jersey as well around his running game but [look at] the changes in his game that he’s tried to implement.
“I look at his kicking game, his cross-field kicks – he’s had a couple of those this year for try assists, little grubbers inside the 22 and being able to see where that kick space is. You’d probably say, back in 2017, he didn’t have that in his repertoire.”
"Can the All Blacks’ captain also be a bloke who picks fights with the journalists on social media?"
– Hamish Bidwell on the predicament ahead for the All Blacks' coaching staff and selectors following Sam Cane's injury https://t.co/3qYp5ItpSv
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 6, 2021
Parsons was full of praise for how Laumape has developed his skillset, also touching upon the midfielder’s burgeoning kicking game.
“We know the strengths that he has but I love his attitude that he’s taken this year,” he said. “He’s really looking to work on his kicking game, he’s really looking to work on his link game – and that doesn’t come from a player that doesn’t have a growth mindset.
“Ngani, for me, clearly has a growth mindset and clearly wants to get better every day. That tells me he’s a good leader and others will want to follow him because he’s the best in his field. So he has so much to offer than just the skillset he has on the field and that’s the sort of player you probably want to keep in the game and you want to keep in New Zealand as well.
“That’s me being the outsider looking in. I don’t know Ngani personally, I’ve only been steamrolled by him personally. But those are the sorts of things and the effort he’s putting in on his work-on areas shows a lot more about his character and where he could potentially get to and the excitement, for me, of where he could get to in the All Blacks jersey.”
A move to France, of course, would stymy any chances of Laumape furthering his international career, with the All Blacks only selecting players from within New Zealand, with the odd exception.
While Laumape would undoubtedly find success at Stade Francais, where he’s rumoured to be heading, his lack of opportunities in the black jersey to date shouldn’t signal to the 27-year-old that there isn’t still time to make a mark.
Ma’a Nonu, a player who started out his career in a similar mould to Laumape, wasn’t a regular selection in the All Blacks until his sixth year in the team – and he later went on to become one of the best No 12s the world has ever seen.
The Red Hurricanes missed an opportunity to join Kobe and Panasonic with five wins each. https://t.co/ZW3oHvzxv2
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 6, 2021
Parsons suggested that with a bit of patience, Laumape could ultimately find himself in a similar standing.
“I hate comparing players – but he is like a Ma’a Nonu. He’s trending in the same direction, the way he’s growing his game.
“Ma’a was the same, he was told he needed to work on his kicking and he did that and it worked and he grew into the world’s best second five and still is playing extremely well to this day.
“I think that’s more of a like-for-like and the trajectory of his career and if we can get him hanging around and build into something like that, he’s got a hell of a lot to offer.”
While there’s a trove of talent midfielders coming through the ranks in New Zealand right now, there are none quite like Ngani Laumape and his departure overseas would be a major loss for the All Blacks and Hurricanes moving forward.
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