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Maturing lock Isaia Walker-Leawere has become a leader of the Hurricanes pack

By Adam Julian
Isaia Walker-Leawere poses during a Hurricanes Super Rugby training session at NZCIS on March 20, 2024 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

It was once joked Isaia Walker-Leawere spoke with his eyebrows.

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The imposing lock from Ruatoria might not say much, but his laconic words carry gravitas in the Hurricanes.

He is largely responsible for coordinating the lineout; statistically the fourth best in the competition despite having to use six different hookers in 2024.

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Walker-Leawere has played more minutes (904) for the Super Rugby Pacific leaders than any other forward. The 27-year-old made 133 of his 150 tackle attempts during the regular season and played 13 out of a possible 14 games.

The growing maturity of Walker-Leawere was illustrated as early as March when the Hurricanes defeated the Reds 38-33 in the second round in Melbourne.

The Hurricanes lost starting captain Jordie Barrett to a red card in his 100th game and then co-captain Asafo Aumua was dragged before extra time leaving an apparent leadership void.

The Hurricanes won the match with a try to Pasilio Tosi. The replacement prop credited Walker-Leawere with an inspiring speech before his best moment as a Hurricane. Tosi told RugbyPass on March 8.

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“I didn’t know who the captain was but Isaia Walker-Leawere stepped up big time. He rallied us together for a pep talk and said, ‘We’ve got to do this for the bro.’ From that, I was locked in.”

What did Walker-Leawere say?

“I’ve been around a while, I had to say something,” Walker-Leawere laughed.

“I put the challenge out to the boys. Jordie’s 100th. He means a lot to the club. We’re the ones who can show how much.

“Those opening two weeks in Australia set us up well. We got two wins, and built confidence and momentum before getting more attention at home.”

Building combinations in lineouts can’t be easy when hookers keep getting injured. Walker-Leawere begs to differ.

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“The expectation is whoever comes in is straight into it.”

“Bryn Evans is running the cutter in the lineouts. He’s a bit of a wizard at getting things right and challenging the opposition. I learned a lot playing with him at the end of his Hawke’s Bay career.

“All the coaching staff are young and not long retired. That makes a difference because they relate to us more and challenge us every week.

“Before the Dura game, we trained in heat chambers over 36 degrees. It was bloody ridiculous but worked because those are the conditions in Suva.”

The Hurricanes host the Chiefs in Saturday’s semi-final at Sky Stadium. The Hurricanes and the Chiefs have met on 45 occasions. The Hurricanes have won 23 matches to the Chiefs 20. There have been two drawn matches. The Hurricanes 20 points in winning their previous fixture on 24 May is the lowest score they have ever made to beat the Chiefs. Previously their record lowest score was in their 21-13 win at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth in 2015.

The Hurricanes have won three of 11 semi-finals, the Chiefs four of seven. Walker-Leawere stressed the Chiefs will be physical, motivated and quick to punish errors. He’ll likely oppose Tupou Vaa’i, favoured by several pundits to regain his place in the All Blacks.

With Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu unavailable until after the English series, Walker-Leawere could rise in All Blacks contention with another strong playoff performance.

Walker-Leawere played for the New Zealand Under 20s under All Blacks coach Scott Robertson in 2016 and was a world champion in the same event a year later. He has won the Ranfurly Shield for Hawke’s Bay and appeared 68 times for the Hurricanes (46 wins).

If Walker-Leawere is overlooked for the All Blacks, he’ll almost certainly be retained by the Maori All Blacks for a two-match series against a Japan XV in June and July.

Walker-Leawere has made ten appearances (eight wins) for the Maori All Blacks since scoring two tries on debut in a 59-22 win against the USA in Chicago in 2018.

 

Watch the exclusive reveal-all episode of Walk the Talk with Ardie Savea as he chats to Jim Hamilton about the RWC 2023 experience, life in Japan, playing for the All Blacks and what the future holds. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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Comments

4 Comments
D
Daniel 34 days ago

A bit of a penalty magnet, and managed to turn the ball over five times the last time they played the blues. As a Hurricanes fan he is an incredibly frustrating player to watch.

T
T-Bone 34 days ago

Hmmm I wonder if Ryan and Razor can mould this guy

These next 1 or 2 games could make or break it for him

Played well but gives the impression of perhaps not being fully switched on
Has the size - perhaps an inch or two short

But he’s that bit bigger than others

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