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Time is running out for Leicester Fainga'anuku

By Ned Lester
Leicester Fainga'anuku of the Crusaders dives over to score a try during the round four Super Rugby Pacific match between Blues and Crusaders at Eden Park, on March 18, 2023, in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

There’s no denying the form of left winger Leicester Finaga’anuku in 2023. The Crusaders’ bruiser left his mark on every opposition he came up against in Super Rugby Pacific and was a key contributor to the team’s seventh consecutive title run. However, his role in the All Blacks‘ World Cup campaign isn’t guaranteed.

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Despite being almost unanimously considered the best left winger in the country on current form, Fainga’anuku’s calf injury has seen him miss the opening two Tests of the international season and pundits are concerned he may not have time to make his claim for the No 11 jersey.

Caleb Clarke and Mark Telea have each enjoyed a start on the left wing in Fainga’anuku’s absence, with Telea’s form in 2023 and proven skillset under the highball providing the selectors with exactly the credentials they are looking for in the All Blacks’ game plan.

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Fainga’anuku’s point of difference however is his power, something that only Jordie Barrett brings to the current All Blacks’ backline – but not not to the extent of Fainga’anuku’s crash and bash prowess.

Kiwi pundits have observed the All Blacks’ remaining schedule and considered the team’s World Cup warm-up against the Springboks at Twickenham a match that will feature Ian Foster’s preferred XV. That leaves just two games against the Wallabies for players to cement their place in the World Cup team.

“Players are running out of time now,” Former All Black Jeff Wilson said on The Breakdown. “Time might have already gone for some guys. There’s only two Test matches to go.

“If you think about who hasn’t played, clearly Shaun Stevenson right now is very unlikely to get an opportunity. Leicester Fainga’anuku, who had a remarkable season in Super Rugby, when does he get the opportunity to overtake Emoni Narawa who played one Test match and was very, very good? You can’t fit everybody in.”

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Wilson’s sentiment was backed up by fellow former All Black Justin Marshall: “And do they want to do it? Do they want to create synergy and get players confidence in positions, create combinations?

“Or, do they want to keep injecting players in and try and give them the opportunities that they deserve but, that disrupts the rhythm of the team? Massive decisions for them to make in the next three big games.”

The conversation was equally as pressing on The Aoteroa Rugby Pod, where panellists were also keen to see Fainga’anuku take the field but were torn given the balanced skillsets that were on offer with Telea and Jordan starting on the wings.

“Leicester hasn’t had a crack,” James Parsons said. “His Super Rugby form, he was lighting things up. I don’t know where he’s at but I definitely think he deserves a chance in that 11 jersey.

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“But, based on the other night, in terms of the game plan that we know is best suited to win this World Cup, those two men, well I think Will Jordan’s a lock, Mark has the ability to play 11 and I guess it depends on what style they want to play.”

Fainga’anuku must get healthy and put on a strong display against Australia if he is to see game time in the World Cup. His experience in at centre could make him a valuable asset off the bench as an impact player, something the All Blacks have needed in recent seasons.

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Comments

20 Comments
J
Jonathan 328 days ago

Fainga'unuku is a phenomenon. He can do everything Telea and Clarke can do, and more. We all know he can break the line and brush off defenders, but it's also his work at the breakdown that is brilliant. Having a back that good at turning over ball will be a massive help to the All Blacks when it comes to the big games at RWC

J
Jackson 329 days ago

LF must go. He’s far more dangerous than Clark. CC had shown he’s not up to Test level just a show pony.

J
Jackson 329 days ago

Lester

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