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The future of the Hurricanes No 8 jersey to be tested in Savea's absence

By Ned Lester
Peter Lakai. (Photo by Kerry Marshall/Getty Images)

Wellington sensation Peter Lakai will step into the Hurricanes No 8 jersey this weekend against a formidable Blues loose forward trio as captain Ardie Savea serves his one-game suspension.

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The 20-year-old wins the starting spot over a number of more experienced campaigners after a strong showing in his first two outings for the Wellington team, including a start at openside flanker on debut against the Reds.

Wellington Lions captain and 2020 All Blacks camp attendee Du’Plessis Kirifi has since reassumed his starting role at No 7, while Lakai’s reduced role of impact player 0ff the bench looked fitting as the Petone product introduces himself to the intensity of Super Rugby Pacific.

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Savea’s suspension has however thrown a major opportunity Lakai’s way, getting his first shot at extended minutes in the No 8 position where he excelled during the Lions’ hugely successful 2022 NPC campaign.

Lakai’s debut NPC season was so impressive that the then-19-year-old was nominated for the Duane Monkley Medal for best player in the competition. Lakai also won the New Zealand Rugby Age Grade Player of the Year award.

RugbyPass contributor Adam Julian labelled Lakai’s 2022 NPC campaign “the most exceptional breakthrough season by a loose forward since Ardie Savea” after the rookie racked up more carries (147) than any player in the competition and finished third in the tackle count with 139.

That being said, Hurricanes Assitant Coach Chris Gibbes was keen to dilute expectations for his young star, saying it will take time for Lakai to adapt to Super Rugby’s “level”.

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“He’s come in and it’s a whole different level,” Gibbes said.

“He’s still finding his way, but you’ve seen the class of the player … and it’s just going to take a bit more time for him to establish himself as the player we know.”

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Head Coach Jason Holland was less reserved in his endorsement of Lakai following the Hurricanes’ signing of the powerhouse No 8 to a three-year contract.

“He’s a special kid,” said Holland. “He’s desperate to do well and gets better every day. I know those are a few cliches but that’s Pete and that’s why he’s come to fruition pretty quickly. He’s training really well.

“Pete is a quality, quality carrier of the ball and he’s doing that in training, you see the dominance he has around any collisions. But he’s also a really smart footballer.”

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The comparisons between Lakai and Ardie Savea go beyond the respective barnstorming debut NPC seasons, Lakai’s physicality in the contact and robust skillset at such a young age are traits Kiwi fans witnessed throughout Savea’s rise in both the 15-a-side format and in the All Black Sevens.

“My main inspiration coming up was probably Ardie Savea,” Lakai revealed in 2022, explaining the similarities in the No 8’s game.

“Every time he plays, he plays with his heart on his sleeve so he’s a real inspiration for me coming up.”

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