Axed All Blacks prop Karl Tu’inukafe is keeping his slim World Cup aspirations alive as he prepares for his third Mitre 10 Cup outing with North Harbour this year.
The 26-year-old was one of five players cut from the All Blacks’ 39-man Rugby Championship squad ahead of the Bledisloe Cup series earlier this month, with head coach Steve Hansen citing a lack of mobility as the key reason behind his culling.
“When you talk about mobility, you’re talking about people’s ability to get back up from the ground and defend and get back and be a ball player,” Hansen said of the reasoning behind Tu’inukuafe’s dropping.
“In today’s game you need props that can do more than just scrum and lift in the lineout so that’s been our challenge in the last 12 months that we’ve put to our front rowers and some of them are progressing really well with it and others are struggling.”
A renowned scrummager, Tu’inukuafe has impressed with his ball-playing ability since returning to provincial rugby, playing a starring role in North Harbour’s season-opening 28-all draw with Auckland at Eden Park a fortnight ago.
A leg injury forced him from the field against Counties Manukau last week, but the 13-test loosehead has been named to start against Southland in Invercargill on Sunday, and will look to build on his impressive display from two weeks ago.
He needs to, as it will be his last chance to sway Hansen and his fellow All Blacks selectors before New Zealand’s World Cup squad is named on Wednesday.
Considered an unlikely chance to make the side, Tu’inukuafe knows the decision may be out of his hands, but is ready for an international re-call if given the opportunity.
“I’m just trying to give my best for North Harbour, whatever it is, hopefully it gets us the result,” Tu’inukuafe told TVNZ.
“Whatever the plan is with the coaches.
“Every player brings a different type of thing to the table. Whatever I can bring, if they need it and if they need me, [then] I’m ready whenever.”
His well-documented rise from a nightclub bouncer to an All Black within the space of a few years has made Tu’inukuafe a fan favourite among the New Zealand faithful, but the man himself conceded that his chance to play test rugby only came about due to a run of injuries to other props throughout the country.
Subsequently, it has made his task of reclaiming a place in the national set-up a difficult one.
“I always knew when I came in [to the All Blacks], there was always guys that opened the opportunity for me.
“Being injured, they opened that door [and] I took my opportunity.
“When they came back into form, it was easy to know what they were looking for, the selectors.
“They knew what they were looking for before they got injured, and then to go back to them was probably the easy decision.”
The All Blacks are likely to take five props to the World Cup in Japan next month, with Owen Franks, Joe Moody, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Nepo Laulala, Angus Ta’avao and Atu Moli all in the current enlarged squad.
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