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The young gun set to profit from Savea's sabbatical

By Ned Lester
Peter Lakai at Hurricanes training. Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

Ardie Savea this week announced his plans to take a sabbatical following next years Rugby World Cup, but just a few days earlier, Wellington named their Rookie of The Year in 19 year old Peter Lakai – a powerful young No 8 who Wellingtonians are looking at as the next big thing.

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Last week Lakai was signed by the Hurricanes to a contract which will take him through to 2025, giving him one year of studentship under Savea before the All Black departs for the 2024 season.

The Petone product’s solid frame and mobility promises the kind of raw talent that Savea’s mentorship could elevate to an All Blacks level star and judging by his ascension to date, Savea’s absence in 2024 could be just the foot in the door Lakai needs to establish himself at Super Rugby level, en route to realising his full potential.

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In just his fifth Wellington appearance, Lakai scored a hat trick against Taranaki, displaying impressive instincts with his support lines in tight channels and explosive acceleration and power to beat players close to the line, twice besting recent All Black Pita Gus Sowakula in the contact.

Lakai has already spent two years with the New Zealand U20’s team and credits Savea as his biggest inspiration.

“When I first got the call to be in the Wellington Lions it was a pretty proud moment for myself and my family,” Lakai said. “Just to get an opportunity to represent my home province and playing along side guys I looked up to as a younger bloke coming up.

“My main inspiration coming up was probably Ardie Savea.

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“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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While Savea’s absence will make way for opportunity at the Hurricanes, higher honours will be a tall order given the talent coming through just a few years ahead of Lakai.

The future of the the All Blacks No 8 jersey is already looking bright, 24-year old Hoskins Sotutu currently enjoys the role of second option behind Ardie Savea, thanks to his breakout Super Rugby season in 2020 for the Blues, where he pushed Akira Ioane to the No 6 jersey and started a handful of All Blacks tests while Savea was out injured.

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22-year old Crusader Cullen Grace is expected to challenge Sotutu for that position in the next World Cup cycle, if not before then (depending on how he recovers from a fractured collarbone).

Also in the frame is the Highlanders’ 24-year old Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, who will get his chance to shine on the international stage for the All Blacks XV in a months time after playing a mighty role in the Highlanders season.

As for Lakai, in addition to learning from one of the games titans in Savea, he joins a strong young group of back rowers in the likes of Devan Flanders, Caleb Delany and Brayden Iose who he can develop alongside at the Hurricanes.

“The Hurricanes are a great group, with world-class players, so I am grateful to be in a position where I can learn off some of the best, and grow both professionally and personally.”

Hurricanes Head Coach, Jason Holland, had this to say following the announcement of Lakai’s signing:

“Lakai is a top young man who worked hard in our environment last year and deserves to be a full-time contracted player in our group. He will add to an already impressive group of loose forwards, so I am looking forward to some great competition amongst them.”

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