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'Outstanding' showing from rookie All Blacks rake raises questions

By Tom Vinicombe

Trending on RugbyPass

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With Ian Foster set to name a tweaked squad for the All Blacks‘ upcoming matches against Australia, South Africa and Argentina, Saturday’s win over Fiji in Hamilton will have raised one big question mark.

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A calf injury suffered by experienced hooker Dane Coles in the lead-up to last night’s game handed Samisoni Taukei’aho a test debut off the bench – and the 23-year-old Chief put in a fantastic performance in his 25 minutes on the park.

In his second touch for the men in black, Taukei’aho crashed over for his first try mere minutes after running onto the park off the back of a well-constructed lineout drive.

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The All Blacks were more composed in their rematch with Fiji on Saturday.

With time up on the clock, Taukei’aho was again the lucky man as the All Blacks ran a nice blindside play off another short-range lineout.

He was at his dynamic best with ball in hand – making one particularly memorable break off the back of a lineout after dummying the pass to flying wing Sevu Reece and always clocking up metres on the run.

Perhaps even more importantly, he was safe as houses at lineout time – an area where he’s struggled in the past. Given the All Blacks’ lineout had faltered on more than one occasion earlier in the match, Foster and his fellow selectors would have been ecstatic with how well the set-piece operated late in the game.

For a hooker on debut, Taukei’aho couldn’t have done a better job. Following the game, Foster acknowledged the 23-year-old’s excellent work in the build-up to the match as well as his on-field performance.

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“He’s been in for two weeks and he’s been outstanding, quite frankly, behind the scenes,” said the All Blacks coach. “He’s done his homework, we had that lineout move that he was probably supposed to pass it to Sevu but those of us who watched a lot on Friday [at the captain’s run] knew he’d never pass it but he just backs himself.

“And again, [he] showed he can be an accurate rugby player so it gives us some really good options in that space.”

Returning All Blacks flanker Ardie Savea was also complimentary of the young rake.

“It’s a testament to Sons, coming on the field and playing the way he did,” Savea said following the match. “I don’t like playing against him so it was nice to be alongside him tonight.”

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Taukei’aho backed up Foster’s comments on his off-the-field work, indicating that he had approached the week like he would be playing against Fiji, regardless of the fact that he’d been initially left out of the team.

“[I was] a bit nervous at the start but we pride ourselves in camp of preparing to play, even though you’re not named in the 23,” he said. “So I was ready and excited to go, just went out there and did my job for the team.

“It was pretty special. Obviously [Hamilton] is where it started for me and a dream come true to play for the All Blacks at home was really special.”

Given the youngster’s performance, it would be a tough reward to send Taukei’aho back to play provincial rugby when Foster names his squad for the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship, but that’s exactly what might unfold in the coming days.

Taukei’aho was a late call-up to the squad, taking the place of Asafo Aumua after the Hurricanes wrecking ball took a knock against Tonga in the opening test of the Steinlager Series. The Chiefs hooker wasn’t even in line to clock up any minutes until Coles’ calf pulled up lame on Friday.

While Aumua’s prognosis is unclear at this stage, it would be a surprise if the 24-year-old weren’t back on the pitch in the coming weeks. It’s a similar story for Coles, who will likely be fit and firing after a weekend of rest. With Codie Taylor one of the first names on the team sheet, one of Aumua or Taukei’aho are likely to be squeezed out of the squad.

Both players would have reason to feel aggrieved should they be dropped, given both hookers’ form for their respective franchises throughout the Super Rugby season.

Aumua, while he has just four appearances to his name, is in his fourth campaign for the All Blacks and has been biding his time and waiting for an opportunity to represent New Zealand more frequently. Taukei’aho is less experienced in the national set-up and as the last man to join the team, will likely have to cede to his slightly older counterpart.

The more left-field choice would be to hand 34-year-old Coles some time away from the black jersey – especially if the selectors are casting their eyes to the Rugby World Cup in 2023.

One way or another, Foster has a big call to make in the very near future.

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'Outstanding' showing from rookie All Blacks rake raises questions

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