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'It's big shoes to fill': Hoskins Sotutu reflects on replacing All Blacks' best

By Tom Vinicombe
Hoskins Sotutu. (Photo by Andrew Cornaga/Photosport)

After months of playing the waiting game, Hoskins Sotutu will finally get the chance to once again don black when New Zealand takes on Australia in Melbourne on Thursday.

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Sotutu last ran out for the All Blacks against Italy in mid-November and despite being a part of the NZ squad from when it was first named in late June, Sotutu has had to settle for holding tackle bags on the training field.

With first-choice number 8 Ardie Savea unavailable for this week’s Bledisloe Cup clash, Sotutu now has the chance to stretch his legs and showcase what he can bring to the black jersey.

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“I think with the time of me not playing, it becomes more special when I get named,” said Sotutu of being promoted into the starting line-up. “Obviously really excited to get out there and just try and play hard and make my family proud.

“I’ve just been preparing myself to be ready for an opportunity to come. I know that was going to be limited so whenever it came I just [had] to be ready.”

While Sotutu was a regular starter for the Blues throughout Super Rugby Pacific, notching up 13 appearances throughout their relatively successful 2022 campaign where they were trumped in the final by the Crusaders, the 24-year-old has made just two further appearances on the pitch since the end of the competition, running out for Counties Manukau in the NPC. That won’t be a problem, according to Sotutu, who has been preparing each week as if he were going to be running out on the park, regardless of what’s eventuated.

“Obviously since that last game against Italy it’s been a wee while,” he said. “I think I’ve just got to fall back on my Blues performances. Just like training in here with these boys. I think I’ve been preparing myself real well and I think I’m ready for this game.

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“I just try and train to the best that I can and if I’m named then I’m named but if I’m not then I’ve got another task of preparing the team. It’s just what job I have at the time.”

Savea has been one of the All Blacks’ best performers throughout their campaign to date and has been a crucial component in the three victories they’ve recorded from their seven matches played this season. Naturally, Sotutu has used the infallible Savea as an inspiration in his own development.

“His preparation is second to none. For him, being able to perform real consistently is something I find amazing. That’s something for me to drive towards.

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“I think he’s sort of like the all-round player. He’s aggressive on D and on attack and he can also just make things happen. It’s something to work towards in the future.

“With me, I just try to do things the way I do it. Just at training, if I see something a bit differently I speak up and stuff like that. I’m still young and I’m still trying to learn. Ardie’s the master at the moment, he’s the teacher.”

Without Savea to call upon this week should the going get tough, Sotutu has a massive challenge ahead of him against the Wallabies on Thursday night – but one he won’t be shying away from.

“Obviously with Ardie not being here, it’s big shoes to fill,” Sotutu said. “But I’ve just got to do what I do, don’t try and overcomplicate it and be me.”

Coach Ian Foster has similar ideas on how Sotutu needed to go about his first Test match of the season on Thursday:

“I just want him to be himself. He’s trained hard alongside Ardie, knows his roles well, and we want to go out and execute the game that we need him to play and also not be afraid to show some of the skill set that he’s got.”

Thursday’s match is due to kick off at 7:45pm.

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