Physicality, aggression at the breakdown, dominant tackling and ball carrying ability – those are the attributes that has won Hurricanes and Wellington flanker Du’Plessis Kirifi a maiden call-up to the All Blacks for the upcoming Tri Nations.
The 23-year-old was one of two new players, along with Crusaders and Otago prop George Bower, named in Ian Foster’s 38-man squad set to depart for Sydney on Sunday for the shortened Rugby Championship that will feature only New Zealand, Australia and Argentina.
Both players comes into the side as cover for star loose forward Ardie Savea and tighthead prop Nepo Laualala, both of whom are on paternity leave and will re-join the squad at a later date.
Kirifi’s rise to the national squad comes after a series of stellar performances at both Super Rugby and provincial level, but his inclusion in Foster’s touring party has been questioned by some given the exclusion of Lachlan Boshier.
The Chiefs and Taranaki flanker has been in sensational form for both teams this year, but found himself on the outer when Foster named his initial 35-man squad following last month’s North vs South clash.
Although he wasn’t part of the match day side, Boshier was included in the North Island squad, and many expected him to be the next cab off the rank in the loose forward pecking order.
However, Foster has instead picked the uncapped Kirifi, who missed out on the North Island squad, and explained his selection decision during an appearance on Sky TV‘s The Breakdown on Tuesday.
“When you look at the names we had available, we’ve got some good loose forwards at the moment, so rather than talk about the guys we didn’t pick, why did we pick Du’Plessis?” Foster said when asked why Kirifi had been picked ahead of Boshier.
“I think he’s a very physical player, he’s good at the ball, he’s probably got a bit of work to do on his decision-making, but he’s aggressive at attacking the ball in the ruck.
“He’s got an added bonus of being pretty dominant in the tackle. He likes to use his shoulders in that space and he sticks with his tackles, and his ball carrying has been one thing that has also grown, particularly in the slightly wider channels where he’s pretty confident with running good lines and offloading.
“They’re the things we see in him that we like, and he’s been proven during a pretty tough Super Rugby campaign and with Wellington, so [we’re] delighted for him.”
Whether or not Kirifi will get any game time while in Australia remains to be seen, given he will have to contend with captain Sam Cane and Dalton Papalii for the No. 7 jersey across New Zealand’s four Tri Nations matches.
Both Kirifi and Bower are part of a group of seven players – including Asafo Aumua, Mitchell Dunshea, Cullen Grace, Akira Ioane and Will Jordan – who are awaiting their test debuts, but Foster was reluctant to be drawn on whether he would field all 38 of his players over the coming weeks.
“Will everyone get a game? Well, I’m not going to make that promise just now,” the All Blacks head coach said as he pointed to the change in scheduling as a result of South Africa’s omission from the tournament.
“The draw’s changed and we’ve gone from having six tests over there to four tests with a bye, so we’ll just see what happens, but it would certainly be nice to be able to do that.”
The All Blacks will leave for Australia on Sunday ahead of their first test of the Tri Nations against the Wallabies – in a match that doubles as their third Bledisloe Cup encounter – at ANZ Stadium in Sydney next Saturday.
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