Maori All Blacks MVP's roadblock to earning higher honours
While one Chiefs midfielder was making his debut for the All Blacks on Saturday, it was another’s performance in the curtain-raiser match between the Maori All Blacks and Manu Samoa that perhaps best advanced his case on the night.
Quinn Tupaea was remarkably solid in New Zealand’s 102-0 win over Tonga, eagerly taking on the defensive line and making plenty of good decisions with the ball in hand.
Hours earlier, however, it was 24-year-old Alex Nankivell that was attracting all the attention for his devastating running in the Maori All Blacks’ 38-21 victory.
While Nankivell didn’t finish the game with any points to his name, he was a constant threat to the Samoan defence, seemingly breaking through the line at will and feeding his outside backs.
By the end of the match, he’d managed four clean breaks and nine defenders beaten, clocking up over 100 run metres in the process. His night came to a premature end, however, when he took a shoulder to the head after slipping into a Samoan tackle.
RugbyPass understands that Nankivell was suffering from concussion symptoms after the game and failed an HIA, however the midfielder is expected to be fit to feature for Tasman in the upcoming NPC.
Nankivell largely played second-fiddle to All Blacks Tupaea and Anton Lienert-Brown at the Chiefs this year but still managed seven starts for the Super Rugby Aotearoa finalists throughout the season.
Speaking after the match, Maori All Blacks coach Clayton McMillan – who was head coach of the Chiefs this year but will step into an assistant role in 2022 – issued a challenge to the young midfielder for the seasons ahead.
“He’s Mr Consistent. He had some good moments out there tonight, probably one that he’d probably care not to remember but look, he’s a consistent player, got plenty of opportunity, front-foot ball today to showcase his ability,” McMillan said.
“His challenge, if he wants to get to higher honours, I reckon, is to push his head above the other two blokes at the Chiefs who are going to be featuring in the game after this. There are some challenges there but he’s making improvements.”
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Nankivell’s Maori All Blacks teammate Bryn Hall commended the 24-year-old’s performance on the park was also full of praise for his off-field leadership over the past three weeks.
“He was outstanding on the weekend, I thought his attacking ability, breaking the line, was outstanding,” Hall said on the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod. “He showed glimpses of that in the first match – the weather probably dictated that a little bit, not being able to play a running brand of footy. But it was great conditions at Mount Smart and he was in full-swing and breaking lines and putting people away.
“I think off the field as well, his leadership was massive for us. We had a couple of debutants come into the fold and he took a real leadership role within the week and it was a great two weeks for Nank – hopefully he’s not injured.
“Obviously it’s a great honour to be able to play for the Maori All Blacks,” Hall said earlier in the episode, “but the higher level, playing for the All Blacks, is probably a lot of guys’ ambitions in our team. If there’s injuries, I think Alex has been probably the most valuable player in our team for the last two weeks.”
“I don’t know him too much as an individual but the way he plays for the Chiefs when he comes in there, the same with Tasman and with the Maori All Blacks, he just comes across as such a selfless player,” he said. “He’s the sort of guy that’s team-first 24/7 and it’s all about setting up others. Everything he does, he never pushes the boundary to take himself into the spotlight of going for the glory. He’s always looking for a support player.”
While the All Blacks suffered a hit to their midfield stocks before the first match of their July schedule had even kicked off, with Braydon Ennor requiring an appendectomy, no replacement was named – but Nankivell is likely competing with Leicester Fainga’anuku and Peter Umaga-Jensen to be the next cab off the ranks, should the All Blacks decide they need an extra body in camp.
The Maori All Blacks have finished their campaign for the year after recording back-to-back wins over Samoa while the All Blacks have two games remaining in July, both against Fiji, with 11 more tests scheduled for the remainder of the year.
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