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Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi's 'fresh start' arrives at the Crusaders

By Tom Vinicombe
Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

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Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi’s career with the Chiefs started with a bang, with the quick-passing halfback earning himself a call-up to the All Blacks following his first season in Hamilton in 2018. Since then, however, the 26-year-old has struggled for minutes. Now, having shifted south to the Crusaders, Tahuriorangi is hoping to reignite his career.

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On Friday evening, Tahuriorangi will take the first steps towards doing just that when he runs out as a Crusader for the first time in their clash with Super Rugby newbies Moana Pasifika.

“It’s an awesome opportunity for a lot of us who haven’t been playing the last couple of weeks to put our hands up for selections for [the coming] weeks,” Tahuriorangi said on Wednesday.

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The Aotearoa Rugby Pod reflects on the debut of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
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The Aotearoa Rugby Pod reflects on the debut of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

The halfback is one of four debutants named for the fixture, alongside reserves Dominic Gardiner, Kini Naholo and Isaiah Punivai, while the bulk of the side is made up of players who haven’t featured significantly for the Crusaders over the past two seasons. Despite the number of inexperienced players in the side, however, Tahuriorangi says the Crusaders are making sure they’re preparing as digently as ever in expectations for Friday evening when they’ll come up against a team who have yet to make their Super Rugby debut after Covid forced the postponement of their opening two games of the year.

“We’re not taking this team lightly. This Moana Pasifika team have nothing to lose. They’ve got no pressure on them so for us that can be quite scary if we don’t get our prep right but we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

For Tahuriorangi himself, 2022 is an opportunity to start afresh after playing second-fiddle to Chiefs co-captain Brad Weber throughout 20198 and 2020, and finding himself also slipping behind Xavier Roe in the pecking order last year.

“I guess a bit of it is the uncontrollables,” Tahuriorangi explained his lack of gametime over the past three season. “2019, 2020, I was carrying an injury and that put me out of selection and I guess the last couple of years, Webby has been playing awesome and credit to him. It was pretty tough to find game time and obviously with Covid and all that stuff too, that was uncontrollable.

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“Lastly, it’s probably just good for me to have a fresh start with the Crusaders, being away from family, and kind of just focus on my self … It’s been real refreshing being able to come down here with no pressure and expectations and just putting my best foot forward to get minutes and game time. That’s kind of where I’m at at the moment.”

Having lost Ereatara Enari to Moana Pasifika at the end of last season, Crusaders coach Scott Robertson could have looked to sign a young halfback to back up the likes of Bryn Hall and Mitchell Drummond for 2022 (and he did try to lure new Chief Cortze Ratima south). Robertson, however, saw value in bringing an off-contract Tahuriorangi south to help bring out the best in the team’s stocks at No 9.

“I knew him from the U20s, we had a previous relationship, and it was a chance for him to have a little bit of a fresh start,” Robertson said. “He’d come back into a new environment, I talked to [Chiefs coach] Clayton [McMillan] about it and we felt the best thing for him was to restart his career.

“He can play at All Black level, and the challenge of coming down here and being a Crusader was something he needed in his life, so him and his wife and his wee one have settled in here and making most of the opportunity. Just for him to compete with a couple of different halfbacks and try to every day, that’s been a real positive for him. We’ve got clear standards that we have around the place that are driven by the players, and he’s risen to it and helped them push it as well.”

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Tahuriorangi has quickly adjusted to life with the Crusaders and Robertson says that’s helping to bring the best out of him – and the teammates around him.

“Te Toiroa’s been awesome. In his own little way, he’s just slowly built the connections with the group. His cheekiness is just starting to come out now, which I love about him. He’s got great timing and a good little bit of wit, and he takes it onto the field, the way he plays, got a great running game, and his confidence is built around the group to be himself, so I’m excited for him.”

While Moana Pasifika are the designated home side for the match, it will take place under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin – something which Tahuriorangi believes will allow for a smooth start to his Crusaders career.

“There’s no better way to play a bit of running footy. All I have to do is pass the ball to guys like Simon Hickey, Richie Mo’unga, run up the middle and reap the rewards off them,” the former All Black joked.

Friday’s match kicks off at 7:05pm NZT.

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