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Long-awaited start arrives for hulking hooker Samisoni Taukei'aho

By Tom Vinicombe
Samisoni Taukei'aho. (Photo by Andrew Cornaga/Photosport)

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While it may not have happened as soon as many expected, Samisoni Taukei’aho has finally been handed a start for the All Blacks in 2022.

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Taukei’aho was arguably New Zealand’s form hooker throughout the Super Rugby Pacific season, backing up after an impressive debut campaign with the national side in 2020 that saw him initially called into the squad as an injury replacement, only to force his way into the first-choice match-day 23 throughout the year.

The 24-year-old hooker boasts one of the most powerful leg-drives in the country and while there are obvious benefits to bringing Taukei’aho onto the field late into the piece to cause some havoc, many questioned why he wasn’t given more minutes throughout the All Blacks’ July series with Ireland.

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Instead, the experienced Codie Taylor was entrusted with the No 2 jersey in all three matches – but Taylor won’t feature at all against the Springboks this weekend with Taukei’aho and Dane Coles set to share the duties instead.

“He’s playing well,” head coach Ian Foster said of his young rake. “He’s done what we’ve asked him to do off the bench, we’ve been really pleased with his growth.

“He’s uncomplicated. We don’t believe he gets overawed in big occasions. If he makes a mistake, he moves on quick.

“He’s been a big mover, I think, the last 12 months, and pretty excited about giving him that jersey.”

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As far as big occasions go, they don’t come much bigger than lining up against a mammoth Springboks pack in front of a braying partisan crowd in what will be the All Blacks’ first match in South Africa since 2018.

Taukei’aho previously earned one start for the All Blacks against Argentina last year but Saturday’s match will certainly put the youngster under considerably more pressure.

With the likes of tight forwards Brodie Retallick and Ofa Tuungafasi both unavailable for the trip to the Republic, Taukei’aho will undoubtedly be asked to take on considerable ball-carrying duties for the men in black – although Foster made it clear that it wasn’t just his strength in contact that earned him his spot in the run-on side.

“That’s not his only purpose, to be honest, but it’s a key strength of his,” he said.

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Tuakei’aho’s promotion to the starting line-up is almost as big a surprise as Taylor’s absence from the 23 altogether. While Taylor has been going through somewhat of a form slump in the black jersey over the past 12 months, he’s been an almost constant presence in the hooker role but now finds himself surpassed by both Taukei’aho and 35-year-old Coles.

“We’ve got three good hookers,” said Foster. “We felt for this test, this is the right [combination].

“Dane brings a lot of experience as well – as does Codie. Dane’s got an energy about him at the moment and we just feel his experience in that latter part of the game’s going to be key.”

Coles is by far the most experienced player the All Blacks have named on the bench for Saturday’s match in Mbombela. With 81 caps to his name, he boasts almost as many Test appearances on his own as the rest of the reserves combined and 46 more than the next most experienced substitute, first five-eighth Richie Mo’unga.

This weekend’s match is set to kick off at 5:05pm SAST.

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