Recalled All Black David Havili 'taking steps in the right direction'
Saturday night’s battle for the Bledisloe presented the new All Blacks midfield with a second opportunity to build their partnership and while there may have been a few hiccups, signs were promising.
David Havili and Anton Lienert-Brown first linked up in New Zealand’s final test of July against Fiji and although both showed signs of individual brilliance, it was clear that the pair would need to spend more time together in the saddle before they’d threaten as a combination.
The pair roomed together ahead of this weekend’s test and were named in the No 12 and 13 jerseys for Saturday’s fixture, fighting off the likes of Rieko Ioane, who slotted in on the left wing, and Quinn Tupaea, who was eventually released to play for Waikato on Sunday.
While Lienert-Brown has been a constant presence in the All Blacks midfield over the last five years, Havili only made his return to the national squad this season after first debuting in 2018.
The Tasman and Crusaders utility has regularly spoken of his preference for playing at fullback but was called upon to fill the Crusaders No 12 jersey this year, ultimately starting 11 of his 12 Super Rugby matches in the midfield.
Following Saturday’s win, Havili admitted that he’s slowly starting to come to terms with his new role and that’s he’s focussing on building on his combination with Lienert-Brown.
“I think I’m taking steps in the right direction,” he said. “I’ve been helped a lot around moving to 12 with a lot of players and around my club side as well. I’m still learning and I just want to be a sponge off the likes of Rieko and Anton in the midfield there so I can get the best out of myself and do the best for this team.
“I’m really enjoying playing in the midfield. I know I’ve said in the past that 15 was my preferred position but at the moment, I’m comfortable there and I’m looking forward to building more of those connections in the midfield and seeing where I can get myself.”
While Havili notched up a handful of tests in his debut season with the All Blacks three years ago, Saturday presented the 26-year-old with his first start against a tier-one side, following starts against Fiji last month.
Havili said the match against the Wallabies was exactly the kind of physical contest he’d been anticipating from his first Bledisloe Cup encounter.
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“I really enjoyed it,” he said. “[I’d] expect nothing less from a Bledisloe. Physicality was right there. The tempo was there at the start and towards the end.
“It was good for me to experience that and playing with Anton was pretty cool. [It’s a] good combo. [There’s] a few things we’ll work on during the week but [it was] a step forward in the right direction.”
Havili was always a willing ball-runner in the midfield and finished the match with the second-most carries of any All Black. He also beat four defenders – just two fewer than fullback Damian McKenzie, and made 11 tackles, the most of any NZ back.
Tupaea is an option to start at No 12 next weekend while Ioane could slide into the centre role but the most likely option is Ian Foster sticks with this week’s combination for a third successive test.
Since Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith called time on their test careers following the 2015 Rugby World Cup triumph, New Zealand have struggled to build a perfect partnership in the midfield. Whether Havili and Lienert-Brown could be that partnership remains to be seen – but it’s something that can only be determined after they’ve spent ample time on the field together.
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