Watch: Leicester Fainga'anuku blasts through the Hurricanes on way to hat-trick for Crusaders
The outside back spent most of last season at centre as the Crusaders went through an injury crisis in the midfield with Jack Goodhue and Braydon Ennor spending significant time on the sidelines but was back on the left wing to start the Super Rugby Pacific season.
The Crusader quickly got on the score sheet by barging over from close range after a Will Jordan line break took play inside the five. Fainga’anuku travelled across the field to get the carry where no Hurricane could not stop him.
He bagged his second shortly after to put the Crusaders up 12-3 when a switch play from the scrum saw fullback Jordan explode through the midfield defence on an inside pass by Braydon Ennor.
Fainga’anuku strolled over untouched after receiving the final two-on-one pass from Jordan for a simple finish.
His third of the evening came on a lineout play special that put him on a collision path with Julian Savea defending in the first five channel. From a peel play, the Crusaders wing took the ball steaming around the corner, running directly where the Hurricanes wing was defending.
Some footwork by Fainga’anuku broke through the grasp of Savea and he tumbled over to finish his hat-trick just ten minutes into the second half.
The 22-year-old almost had his fourth when a deep kick was sent down the left touch line. In a foot race with hooker Asafo Aumua, only an unkind bounce saved the Hurricanes from conceding another with no one else in sight to stop a try from being scored.
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“I think personally, nothing’s really changed,” Fainga’anuku told Sky Sport NZ on his off-season after the match.
“It’s the same old every year, I just want to come into every campaign with the ears open and take in all the learnings from S&C [Strength and Conditioning] and the trainings, also the work-ons from the coaches from last year.
“Just really put in at training to take the opportunities in game time.”
Fainga’anuku said it’s no secret that competition for a wing spot in the Crusaders is tough, but that the chance to work with international talent benefits everyone in the positional group.
“The whole world knows about this team and the competition we have in this group. It’s more of a blessing really to compete against some of the best players going around the world.”
Former All Black fullback Mils Muliana praised the work of the young Crusaders wing in the post-match discussion.
“I love the way his tries were scored,” Muliana said on Sky Sport NZ
“The first one was obviously a little bit different, he goes around looking for work.
“This one here, his third, he knows his role. It’s obviously a set piece play by Jason Ryan.
When asked whether he would be a certainty to start every week, former Crusaders captain Kieran Read conceded he would have to be but didn’t envy the coaches who had to make that call.
“He’s got to be there in that starting team, I guess,” Read conceded before adding, “Sevu Reece came on, had a massive impact too,”
“George Bridge played tonight too, probably his best performance in a wee while in the Crusaders jersey, so there’s guys there to play. I don’t know, I wouldn’t envy those coaches trying to make those decisions.”
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