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New Hurricanes lock had 'never been more ready for a game in my life'

By Tom Vinicombe
Caleb Delany and Tyrel Lomax. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

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Already this season the Hurricanes had rolled out one new second-rower to great success with Bay of Plenty’s Justin Sangster impressing in the opening two rounds of Super Rugby Pacific. Now, the men from the capital have blooded another youngster with new man Caleb Delany getting his first taste of action against the Highlanders.

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The Super Rugby debut has been a long time coming for the 22-year-old, who was first brought into the Hurricanes squad as injury cover last year but never got the opportunity to take the field.

A full season with Wellington in the NPC followed, with Delany earning his first full-time contract for 2022 on the back of some consistent performances in the second row and on the blindside flank for the Lions.

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Having built a relationship with the Hurricanes over the better part of a year, Delany was relieved to finally get on the park for the franchise in their 21-14 win in Wellington.

“It’s been a long time, to be honest,” he told RugbyPass after the match. “It’s been a couple of years just waiting around and training. It’s definitely an amazing feeling to get out there and run with the boys for the first time. It’s special for me and my family, it’s great.”

With Delany’s family residing in Nelson and only one guest allowed on Saturday per player thanks to New Zealand’s strict Covid laws, the debutant didn’t have any family on hand to witness his first match in Hurricanes colours but he had plenty of support around him from the many players he’s already built connections with in the environment, including Sangster.

“Me and him were rooming in Queenstown, actually,” Delany said of the Hurricanes’ other recently capped lock. “So I was there with him through his debut and stuff and asking him how it was and all that.

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“He was asking me throughout the week how I was feeling. I’ve never been more ready for a game in my life, to be honest. I was meditating and all that jazz, just eager to get out there.

“It definitely helps a lot [knowing the players around him and feeling comfortable in the environment before taking the field]. Compared to someone like [new reserve hooker] Ray [Tuputupu], who’s just come in today but done a bloody good job. For me, knowing the boys, they can help me during the week and then help me perform out there.”

With Tuputupu only joining the squad on the day of the match and starting hooker Siua Maile also relatively new to the team, the Hurricanes had to simplify their lineout for the match-up with the Highlanders. While things didn’t always go to plan, with the southerners pilfering a few balls off the top, it was still a relatively successful day at the office for the three debutants involved at lineout time.

“We went through a little plan today when he got here and cut down the menu quite a bit for [Tuputupu] to keep it simple and we were confident with the lineouts that we’d do the job and get the ball,” Delany said.

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As a whole, however, banking a win in your first Super Rugby appearance is not a bad way to kick off your career and now that Delany is more aware of the pace involved at this new level of play, the 22-year-old will be able to quickly step up when called upon again in the future.

“It’s been pretty crazy this last year,” he said. “I’ve come up against some bloody good locks so it’s really helping me in games like this, knowing I actually am good enough. Getting out there and smacking them if I can.

“I think physicality was still a step up but the speed of the game was real tough. I was blowing. I hurt my ankle a bit, which didn’t help, but just the speeds of the rucks and all that was way quicker.”

Coach Jason Holland was also pleased with how his new charge performed, suggesting that Delany’s performance will give the selectors pause for thought moving forward.

“He’s one that’s been busting for an opportunity and now we know what he can do,” Holland said. “He’s dynamic and some of the carries and explosive stuff as well as the stuff you’d expect from a lock, we’re really impressed.

“It’s onwards and upwards for him.”

Senior lock James Blackwell has shouldered a heavy workload so far this season while the likes of Sangster and Scott Scrafton will also be up for selection in the coming weeks, giving Delany plenty of competition to develop his game throughout the season ahead. For now, however, the young second-rower is simply happy to have finally earned his first Hurricanes cap.

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