Ian Foster gives his verdict on David Havili's All Blacks return
Returning to the All Blacks for the first time since 2017, David Havili’s initial outing as a test match second five-eighths proved a physically demanding prospect, as he came up against the ‘Demolition Man’ himself in La Rochelle and Fiji’s Levani Botia.
Both men have enjoyed excellent seasons with their respective clubs this year, with Botia a part of Ronan O’Gara’s side that reached both the Top 14 and European Champions Cup finals in 2021.
Similarly, Havili has enjoyed a fantastic season with the Crusaders in 2021, making ten starts in the No. 12 jersey and being many people’s pick for the form second-five in the country at the moment. Indeed, with Ngani Laumape taking up a contract at Stade Francais and injuries to Anton Lienert-Brown and Crusaders teammate Jack Goodhue, Havili seemed a shoe-in for Foster’s squad.
Against Fiji, Havili played a key role, finishing the night with two tries, a try assist and four defenders beaten. Despite receiving a late yellow card, All Blacks head coach Ian Foster was on the whole, happy with the 26-year-old’s performance in his post-match interview.
“I thought he was probably a little bit nervous at the start,” commented Foster. “There were a few [in the team] like that I thought. Things didn’t always go smoothly [for Havili] – I think he missed a clean and a couple of little things. But I like the fact that he stayed in the game.”
Havili, a key playmaker in a champion Crusaders side in 2021, brought his versatile skill-set and ability to the All Blacks on the night, stepping in at first receiver on occasion and also showing an apt finishing ability.
“He had some good reads off some of those lineout mauls that collapsed and scored a couple of tries through that,” said Foster. “I thought he grew as the game went on. Overall, I was pretty satisfied.”
Another who made their way into the game, was Southland and Highlanders man Ethan de Groot, coming on in the 50th minute to make his All Blacks debut.
The 22-year-old was rightly thrilled with the support he received down in Dunedin, with plenty of noise in the stands coming from travelling fans from the Southland region.
“It’s [an] unreal [feeling],” said de Groot. “Being capped at home in front of all my friends and family was awesome. It’s unreal to have the Southlanders up in Dunedin watching the All Blacks.”
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“I thought he did awesome tonight,” said Smith. “It was a big week, a big occasion and a lot was going on for him, but I think in the last 14 days with this group he’s really grown. I was really impressed with him last week around his preparation … I gave him a few tips around what to try and do and … I think he did really well.”
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