Pita Gus Sowakula facing a similar plight to former teammate Lachlan Boshier
Pita Gus Sowakula and Lachlan Boshier may be very different types of rugby players, but there are some curious parallels between the loose forwards.
Sowakula has been touted as a potential All Black this season, with former New Zealand representatives John Kirwan and Mils Muliana as recently as this week suggesting the number 8 could be due a call-up ahead of the July test series with Ireland.
In all likelihood, however, Sowakula is going to be one of the unlucky men not to have his name read out in June.
Ian Foster and co are set to select 36 men for the mid-year tests and if past squads are anything to go by, that leaves room for six or seven loose forwards. Sam Cane, Dalton Papalii, Ardie Savea, Akira Ioane and Ethan Blackadder are all certainties while others such as Shannon Frizell, Hoskins Sotutu, Luke Jacobson and Cullen Grace have all earned call-ups in recent years.
Sowakula has been playing the house down but the All Blacks have generally always opted for incumbents over in-form challengers and it would take a brave man to bet on the former Fijian basketballer to earn selection ahead of so many other options – even if many suspect he could be a starting option at the back of the scrum for NZ. At 27 years of age, he’s also no spring chicken, which won’t help his cause.
Former Chiefs flanker Lachlan Boshier found himself in a similar situation back in 2020 when despite being one of the top players in Super Rugby, his road to All Blacks selection was well and truly blocked. While he’d suited up in the No 6 jersey on plenty of occasions for the Chiefs, he was very much an openside flanker through and through, which meant he was competing with the likes of Cane and Savea for selection – and he was never likely to pip that pairing. When it came time for the All Blacks to call up an additional flanker, it was Hurricanes tyro Du’Plessis Kirifi who got the tap on the shoulder, indicating that Boshier was at least a few rungs down the ladder when it came to national selection.
While Boshier was undoubtedly in good form, however, his performances in 2020 weren’t dissimilar to the work he’d been doing for the Chiefs in the years preceding.
A couple of excellent performances over the ball at the beginning of the campaign seemed to get Boshier’s name on everyone’s lips and from that point on, every half-decent performance – which he’d been putting together for a handful of seasons already – was touted as another reason why he should be called up to the All Blacks.
“I don’t think I was playing too differently,” Boshier told RugbyPass before the inaugural season of Super Rugby Aotearoa kicked off.
“Maybe I was getting a few more turnovers, which maybe people started talking about – but I’m definitely feeling that that sort of snowball effect.”
Now, two years on, Sowakula is walking a similar pathway.
Heading into the season, Sowakula was very much a known entity. In 2020, throughout said Aotearoa season, Sowakula was effectively the Chiefs’ one guaranteed method of generating front-foot ball – generally by powering forward after receiving the ball off a lineout.
He’s a dynamic ball carrier who likes to look for the offload but inevitably does his best work when he simply tucks the ball and runs. In 2022, that’s been no exception.
It appears that Sowakula has caught the eye of many due to his incredibly athletic try scored in the opening game of the competition (although it has subsequently been ruled illegal) – and has since been attracting a significant amount of attention, despite his skills, attributes and feats not standing out markedly from the work he’s already shown in the past.
Like Boshier, Sowakula is riding a snowball – and one that will likely end in some disappointment. But while Boshier eventually called time on his career in NZ and headed to Japan, Sowakula has international options.
Sowakula has committed to trying to make the All Blacks but admitted that if he can’t achieve his goal by the time of the World Cup, he will likely look to take his talents to the Fijian national side. While it would be remiss to suggest Sowakula has any obligation to throw his lot in with Fiji now, it’s likely that the team would benefit considerably from getting access to a big number 8 at the peak of his powers – one the All Blacks will likely continue to overlook, as they have done for the past two seasons.
Like his former Chiefs teammate, Sowakula appears destined to join the motley crew of players who were never quite able to crack the black jersey, despite coming oh so close and capturing the attention of many a fan around New Zealand.
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