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Like Keven Mealamu with 'the power of a winger': The hooker who could shake up the familiar All Blacks one-two punch

By Sam Smith
Asafo Aumua and Samisoni Taukei'aho. (Photos by Photosport)

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A quick glance at the top of the individual scoring charts for Super Rugby Aotearoa in 2021 tells you all you need to know about the state of New Zealand’s current hooking department.

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Amongst all the X-factor and razzle-dazzle of the McKenzie’s, Jordan’s and Reece’s are the considerably more sizeable frames of the Blues’ Kurt Eklund and the Hurricanes’ Asafo Aumua. And leading them all, with a most likely unassailable seven scores this season, is Crusader Codie Taylor.

Yet it is probably just a little unfair to not associate the words used to describe that chart-topping group of backs with their tight-five counterparts. Certainly, in former All Blacks hooker James Parsons’ view, those are exactly the kind of words we should be using.

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Farmlands Workhorse of the week | Rd10 Super Rugby Aotearoa
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Speaking on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod this week, Parsons was quick to highlight 24-year-old Aumua’s sheer dynamism, pace and ability and drew a comparison to former Blues teammate and two-time World Cup winner Keven Mealamu.

“He’s got the same stature as Kevvy,” commented Parsons. “Honestly he reminds me so much of Kevvy but he’s just got the power of a winger… He does a really good job off the bench, he provides a hell of an impact in his growth and his core roles as well.”

Certainly, ‘impact’ is a word that describes Aumua well.

Since making his provincial debut for the Wellington Lions back in 2016 and his Super Rugby debut for the Canes in 2018, Aumua has gone from strength to strength, scoring crucial and compilation-worthy tries for both the Hurricanes and the Baby Blacks en route to their 2017 U20 World Championship triumph.

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What is more, this season, he and Dane Coles have packed a mighty one-two punch for a struggling but competitive Hurricanes side since the latter’s return from injury. In particular, the impressive return of Coles has meant that even with Codie Taylor on the brink of a fifth Super Rugby title with the Crusaders, Parsons believes the 74-cap All Black Coles has a strong case for a starting place in the national team.

“I think Codie’s playing out of his skin but so is Coles,” said Parsons. “But we have this discussion every year between the two. They are hard to pick between and it just depends on what style the All Blacks want to go with… they probably will rotate between the two. And they’ll have to because they have to manage workloads so it’s a nice problem to have.”

The impact Coles has had and continues to have on forging a new design of hooker on the international stage has been immense and Parsons believes the well won’t run dry of similar talent any time soon.

“I think Coles was the player that changed the hooking role and then a guy like Codie has followed that blueprint,” said Parsons. “Then we’ve got guys like Asafo who’s almost taken it another level in terms of his dynamic power and skillset. There’s so many players that want to be the next so-and-so and they put a lot of time and effort and determination into being that, that they eventually get there.”

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This continual conveyor belt of quality seems to suggest that if competition is fierce at the back of the park for All Blacks fullback, it’s a just as tightly fought battle for a starting place up front.

Parsons also identified the improvements of Samisoni Taukei’aho down at the Chiefs and Kurt Eklund’s prolific recent form and scoring record as being cause for notice.

Speaking of Taukei’aho, Parsons commented: “I think his game and growth is exceptional. People have a little go at his throwing, but I think the Chiefs lineout is operating pretty well for how young the group is and how much they’re all having to grow together.

“I think Kurt Eklund, the other night too, he’s come back from his little suspension but he’s certainly putting his hand up as well.”

In Parsons’ view, even the waiting game players like Aumua and Eklund might have to endure isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“I think biding your time and learning behind and making sure that when you get to that level you’re ready gives you the best opportunity to perform and take your opportunity, rather than being thrown out there early and not nailing it and then being cast aside. I honestly don’t think it’s a bad thing and he [Aumua] will be better for it.”

Listen to the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below:

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Like Keven Mealamu with 'the power of a winger': The hooker who could shake up the familiar All Blacks one-two punch

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