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How debutant Fletcher Newell earned a spot on the bench for Springboks rematch

By Tom Vinicombe
Fletcher Newell. (Photo by Martin Hunter/Photosport)

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Perhaps the biggest story to come out of the All Blacks named to take on the Springboks in Johannesburg this weekend is the selection of uncapped prop Fletcher Newell in the reserves.

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Newell’s elevation isn’t necessarily a surprise; the 22-year-old was in impressive form for the Crusaders throughout Super Rugby Pacific this year and many were calling for the youngster to be elevated into the Test squad for last month’s series with Ireland.

As it happened, Newell missed selection for July but with injuries striking down regular tightheads Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tuungafasi, he received an injury call-up ahead of the South Africa leg of the All Blacks’ Rugby Championship campaign.

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Now, Newell has the opportunity to make his debut against one of the most fearsome scrums in world rugby – and he’s not exactly surrounded by experienced front-rowers for Saturday’s match.

Starting props Ethan de Groot and Tyrel Lomax – who also weren’t a part of the July squad – boast just 20 caps and four Test starts between them while the man in the No 2 jersey, Samisoni Taukei’aho is also only relatively fresh on the scene.

 

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On the bench, reserve loosehead George Bower has 15 appearances to his name but there is some experience in the form of Codie Taylor.

Still, the props who will be on display for the All Blacks on Saturday night are a far cry from the men they fielded against Ireland, at least when it comes to runs on the board.

“First of all, two of the July ones are injured, so that makes your arithmetic pretty simple,” coach Ian Foster said when queried about the fast-tracking of his props. “So it’s a great opportunity for some younger props to have a chance at this level.

“I’d put Ethan [in that category], I’d certainly put Fletcher Newell in that camp. He’s come in, trained really, really well, impressed us, and so we really feel it’s a great opportunity for him and it’s an area that we want to grow in terms of our depth and options anyway so what better place to do it?”

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Newell made his Super Rugby debut last season, earning three appearances off the bench, but took on considerably more responsibilities this season following the departure of Samoan international Michael Alaalatoa.

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While he wasn’t in the first All Blacks squad of the year, Foster said the young prop has already impressed the powers that be within the New Zealand set-up.

“I think the fact he’s come in, jumped on a plane, come here, trained really well last year and he’s impressed with his demeanour and he’s gone about his work, that’s earned him the right to be considered,” Foster said. “The fact he’s in there reflects what he’s done the last two weeks.

“How he’s feeling… he’s not the easiest guy to pick, really, in terms of picking his mood. He’s very level but underneath there he’s very excited and should be very proud of what he’s done and I’m sure when he runs around that park, there’ll be a few butterflies and stuff but first scrum will settle him into it.

“I think you talk about an athlete and talk about their potential but right here and now, he’s in a great spot to start for the All Blacks.”

Taylor, a teammate of Newel’s at the Crusaders, echoed Foster’s sentiments.

“He’s a man that doesn’t say much. It’s just his personality, not because he’s shy or anything. But when he does, he does so with authority with his voice. He’s only 22 and to see someone like that come into this environment and put his hand up is a credit to who he is.

“His family’s really proud. Pretty sure his old man’s on a bird at the moment trying to get over here for the Test. I’m just hugely excited for him and his family to get an opportunity like this at one of the greatest parks in the world.”

Should Newell take the field at Ellis Park on Saturday, he’ll become the fourth new front-rower under Foster’s tenure, following Alex Hodgman, Bower and Taukei’aho.

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