Having fought his way into the All Blacks squad last year, 2021 was shaping up as a massive season in the career of Du’Plessis Kirifi.
By the young Hurricanes flanker’s own admission, things haven’t progressed in quite the way he hoped.
Kirifi was on the bench for the opening match of the competition then started in the Hurricanes’ next four matches – a win over the Highlanders and three losses to the Blues, Chiefs and Crusaders. He returned to the reserves for his side’s clash with the Crusaders before an injury to Ardie Savea saw him promoted back into the main team for last weekend’s last-minute loss to the Chief.
Contrast that with last year, when he started all eight of the Hurricanes’ Super Rugby Aotearoa matches.
“It’s probably not gone the way I’ve personally wanted it to go,” Kirifi said following Thursday’s team naming. “It’s just been a bit stop-start, just hasn’t been as smooth as, I guess, I wanted it to be. Had a rough start to the season.”
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On the back of his excellent form for the Hurricanes in 2020, both around the park and in the breakdown, Kirifi was summoned to the national squad ahead of the All Blacks’ trip to Australia for the latter stages of the Tri-Nations competition.
While Kirifi has still been damaging on attack and defence this year, he’s yet to find his groove in the ruck and has conceded the most ruck penalties of any player in the competition. That’s become a major work-on for the 24-year-old over the past few weeks.
“Obviously, discipline has been a big factor in my game, personally, so that’s something that me and the coaches and mental skills [coaches] are trying to work on,” acknowledged Kirifi.
“But there are still positives that I can take out of my game. I feel like I’m doing some good things in areas but it’s just around being accurate for 80 minutes, not in spurts and then letting myself and the team down with a silly decision at a crucial moment. It’s all part of being a player at this level, working on those high-pressure moments and trying to make the best decision possible for you and the team.
“Like I said, It’s been a bit of a stop-start. [I’m] blessed I haven’t been injured so that hasn’t been a factor but just trying to stay consistent and play consistent rugby and not try save the world one play at a time. Just look at an 80-minute game and look at what I can do in that 80 minutes and ideally, a couple of moments go my way instead of trying to rush through things and play the hero.”
With Sam Cane sidelined for the year and Ardie Savea out for another six weeks, the looming Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition is shaping up as the perfect opportunity for Kirifi to reassert himself as one of the best openside flankers in New Zealand.
Kirifi will again wear the Hurricanes No 7 jersey this Friday when they take on the Highlanders in Wellington.
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