Two injury concerns for All Blacks but a new opportunity for Retallick
Patrick Tuipulotu’s loss is Tupou Vaa’i’s gain, with the 21-year-old Chiefs lock set for his first minutes of test rugby action this year off the bench against the Wallabies this weekend.
Tuipulotu was likely being lined up to cover the second row off the bench on Sunday, with Scott Barrett elevated into the starting line-up alongside Brodie Retallick due to Sam Whitelock’s absence from the current squad.
A groin injury suffered early in the week, however, combined with the limited size of the squad, means last year’s bolter Vaa’i will wear the No 19 jersey against the Wallabies – the side he made his test debut against in 2020.
“If we go back 12 months, when we first brought [Vaa’i] in, we had the confidence to put him in in that Bledisloe at Eden Park and started him there and I thought he did an outstanding job and we’ve got a lot of faith in him,” said Foster, after naming the team for Sunday.
“I think he showed last year that his ability to step up and to go to the next level is there and this year, he came off a massive workload [after] Super Rugby so we’ve really used the Steinlager series to manage him. He’s now jumping out of his skin ready to go. The boys have a lot of faith in him. He prepares well and can’t wait to see him on the park.”
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As alluded to by Foster, Vaa’i is yet to accrue any minutes for the All Blacks in 2021 and is the sole member of the squad named for July who didn’t get the chance to take the field, bar injured utility back Braydon Ennor.
Earlier this week, forwards coach John Plumtree compared Vaa’i to a young Brodie Retallick, suggesting the 21-year-old was destined for a long career in the black jersey.
Retallick has missed the past two seasons of Super Rugby, instead enjoying a sabbatical representing Kobelco Steelers in Japan. He’ll be back with the Chiefs in 2022, however, and all going to plan, Vaa’i could play alongside his new Super Rugby teammate this weekend.
Retallick himself has been keeping a close eye on the young lock – especially when lining up on opposite sides of the training field.
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“It’s great to have another Chiefs lock in here,” Retallick said. “Tupou’s been in here last year and then this year. We’ve kind of been in opposition teams at training otherwise, so far.
“But I think he’s got a great skillset, when he carries the ball, with his catch and pass, his offload and his footwork. Pretty awesome.
“I’m looking forward to seeing him getting his chance this weekend and if I happen to be alongside him in the scrum or out there playing, then hopefully I can run off him.”
While Vaa’i will take Tuipulotu’s place on the bench this weekend, Foster confirmed that Tuipulotu should be available for selection next weekend, as will young prop Ethan de Groot, who suffered a minor hiccup of his own.
“Patty’s groin tightened up on the first couple of days here and gradually got better and better and better so we’re just looking after him,” Foster said. “At this stage, we expect him to be right for next week but … we haven’t got an abundance of players and we can’t call players in late so it’s been a matter of being really cautious in that particular regard with Patty. But he’s still running around at training just in a very managed environment.
“The only other injury of note is probably Ethan de Groot. He got a bit of a neck strain but again, he’s progressing really really well and he’s not really a long-term concern.”
The All Blacks will take on the Wallabies at Optus Stadium in Perth this Sunday.
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