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'There's no fear': The uncapped All Black backed to shine against Ireland

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

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All Blacks star David Havili is backing uncapped teammate Leicester Fainga’anuku to make a significant impact upon his introduction to test rugby over the coming weeks.

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Fainga’anuku was last week named as one of six new caps in the All Blacks squad to face Ireland next month, with the first of the three tests between the two teams scheduled to kick-off at Eden Park next Saturday.

His inclusion in the national squad follows years of strong performances for the Crusaders, with the 22-year-old utility back helping the Christchurch-based franchise win four straight titles since his Super Rugby debut in 2019.

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Deemed unfortunate to have missed out on last year’s All Blacks side, Fainga’anuku is now weeks away from being thrust into the test arena, and Havili is eager to see what his Crusaders and Tasman teammate can offer on the international stage.

“I just think back to when I was like that as well,” Havili said on Tuesday of how Fainga’anuku is coping in the All Blacks set-up, which he and his nine fellow Crusaders joined after last weekend’s Super Rugby Pacific final win over the Blues.

“He’s excited, he’s just an awesome talent, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do and how much he can go and learn in this group. He’s only going to get better.”

Despite being “a bit starstruck” by his new teammates, Fainga’anuku said he has warmed into the environment and is eager to rip into proceedings.

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“Not a man that fears a few things in life, but I think it’s a whole lot of excitement for me to be here, just seeing the quality players here,” Fainga’anuku said.

“At the same time, we’ve all got one goal here, just to be able to do this nation proud on the big stage, and that’s all we’re here for.

“Obviously come from different franchises the last few weeks, but the ability to come as one as All Blacks, that’s truly special and something we’re all proud of to be able to put on our shoulders and take on the world stage.”

The All Blacks will be hopeful that Fainga’anuku’s optimism translates to the kind of performances that he has produced for the Crusaders in years gone by against an Irish outfit looking to create history on Kiwi soil.

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Much has been said about the newfound rivalry between the All Blacks and Ireland, which erupted in 2016 when, after 111 winless years, the Irish scored their first-ever victory against New Zealand, stunning the Kiwis 40-29 in Chicago.

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Since then, the two sides have gone tit-for-tat, with Ireland securing two more resounding wins in Dublin in 2018 and 2021.

On the other hand, the All Blacks knocked the Irish out of the 2019 World Cup quarter-finals in emphatic fashion, three years after redeeming their loss at Solider Field by beating Ireland in a titanic tussle at Aviva Stadium in their 2016 rematch.

That sets up a grandstand series over the coming weeks, during which time Ireland will be confident of clinching not only a first-ever win over the All Blacks in New Zealand, but also an historic series scalp.

Ireland’s confidence will stem from their dominant 29-20 win over the All Blacks last November, a match that Havili described as an “eye-opener” to the physical toll of test rugby.

“I think it’s just international rugby is so physical and you’ve got to be able to get your body back to where it needs to be each week. That was a big learning for me,” the 15-test utility back, who featured in last year’s loss as a bench player, said.

“I was sort of a wee bit tired going into the backend of a lot of those games and I focused really hard around my recovery this year, getting my body right and where it needs to be to keep competing at that top level.”

Fortunately for the All Blacks, the power and abrasiveness Fainga’anuku offers as a wing or centre may be of significant benefit for their redemption chances.

“I think that just excites me, really,” Fainga’anuku said when asked about how he plans to handle the physical nature of international rugby.

“I get told a lot that I’m a bit of a pinball up there, throwing my body around, but when you’re doing it for a good cause, taking one for the team and representing your community or your people, and now – at this level – a nation, it just makes it better to understand that, ‘Let’s throw a bit more at whatever the [defensive] line throws at you’.

“There’s no fear in that.”

It’s for that reason that Havili is anticipating big things from Fainga’anuku as an All Black after having delivered the goods as a Crusader and a Mako.

“He’s been huge. Just his physical presence, he’s young, he’s hungry, he wants the ball and he wants to make a difference,” Havili said.

“If we can exploit that through here as well, I’m sure we will get the best out of him, so looking forward to what he can do.”

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