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'We probably did get in there right under the noses of the Hurricanes'

By Tom Vinicombe
Tyrone Thompson. (Photo by Marty Melville/Photosport)

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Despite the loss of key figure Damian McKenzie to Japan, the Chiefs will enter 2022 with an improved squad from the one that was pipped by the Crusaders in this year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa final and that’s thanks in part to the arrival of some young age-grade talents.

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Tyrone Thompson is such a talent, having cut his teeth with the 2018 New Zealand Secondary Schools side and earning a spot in last year’s Under 20s training programme which was eventually canned due to the pandemic.

Thompson, however, isn’t like fellow Chiefs newbies Gideon Wrampling, Samipeni Finau and Cortez Ratima, who all hail from the Waikato. Instead, he’s been plucked out of the Wellington NPC team and whisked into the squad as a young replacement for the retiring Nathan Harris.

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Samoa have a huge match coming up this weekend.
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Samoa have a huge match coming up this weekend.

While he won’t be expected to immediately clock up too many minutes, backing up new All Black Samisoni Taukei’aho and experienced Super Rugby operator Bradley Slater, Thompson does loom as an excellent long-term prospect for the team.

“Nathan Harris, who has been an absolute warrior for the Chiefs, Bay of Plenty and All Blacks, has obviously signalled that he’s retired from the game. It’s always sad to lose players, particularly to injury, but his retirement has opened the door for Tyron to come in,” Chiefs head coach Clayton McMillan said following the unveiling of the new squad for next season.

“I actually played with Tyrone’s dad many, many, many moons ago. He was a lot smaller; he was a halfback. But a bloody good man.

“I actually first saw Tyrone play for a Hurricanes Under 20s team that played New Zealand Under 20s in a trial match and I thought he was the best player on the park. He was pretty dynamic with ball-in-hand. He’s a big boy, he’s only going to get bigger.

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“We just think in terms of bringing on some young blood in behind Soni, who’s made every post a winner with the All Blacks, and Bradley Slater, who’s had a great season with Taranaki, but also being part of the furniture here for a couple of years, [Thomposon] is a great young prospect to bring in.”

Taukei’aho’s long stint with the national side this season could see the wrecking ball of a hooker sit out a few matches in the opening rounds of the competition, which would allow 21-year-old Thompson to chalk up some appearances off the bench.

The Hurricanes will likely be in a similar position, with both Dane Coles and Asafo Aumua members of the All Blacks squad that travelled to Europe this year. In all likelihood, Hurricanes coach Jason Holland would have had Thompson pencilled in as a man to fill in for those two absentees at the beginning of the season but the Chiefs evidently presented the young hooker with a more compelling package to lure him north to Hamilton.

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“It’s a competitive market out there and you can’t really sit on your hands and just expect that people that may have had a pathway through your development programmes are still going to be there when it comes to signing players,” McMillan said. “Tyrone’s just one of those players who we’ve tracked for a couple of years now and the stars aligned to be able to offer him an opportunity.

“I think we probably did get in there right under the noses of the Hurricanes and that’s just the nature of the beast really. Sometimes moving early pays dividends and other times it doesn’t so you’ve just got to back your homework and do your homework.”

With the Hurricanes also losing Ricky Riccitelli to the Blues, they’ll be relying on the relatively experienced James O’Reilly to back up their All Blacks rakes.

For the Chiefs, however, Thompson is an excellent recruit that could forge a long career in the jersey and his move to the franchise shows great succession planning for the still young Taukei’aho and Slater.

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