'We talked about it': More nerves for All Black Samisoni Taukei'aho
While Saturday’s clash with the Wallabies looms as All Blacks hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho’s third test match, it will also mark the first time the 24-year-old enters an international fixture knowing well in advance that he’s in line for some playing time off the bench.
Taukei’aho debuted for New Zealand in their third test of the July series, coming off the bench and scoring a try in the 60-13 win over Fiji.
He also wasn’t initially named in the All Blacks’ lineup for that test debut – but when Dane Coles went down with a minor injury during the captain’s run on the Friday before the match, Taukei’aho suddenly found himself in the match-day 23.
It was a similar story in his second test, with Coles tweaking his calf in the pre-game warm-up and Taukei’aho being rushed onto the bench in the No 26 jersey.
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It’s been a remarkable rise for the young rake, who many wouldn’t have expected to be in the All Blacks’ frame at the beginning of the year, but has now found himself in line to earn a third cap off the bench against the Wallabies this weekend.
Senior prop Karl Tu’inukuafe – who spent one season playing alongside Taukei’aho at the Chiefs in 2018 – has witnessed first-hand how quickly the Tongan-born front-rower has adjusted to the high-pressure All Blacks environment and was full of praise for Taukei’aho following his naming in the squad for this weekend’s Bledisloe Cup battle.
“He’s done an amazing job,” Tui’nukuafe said on Thursday.
“The first time he came on, he got told on our captain’s run day, the day before [the test]. [The coach] was like, ‘Colesy’s out, you’ve got to play’. He was like ‘Oh sweet’. So he still had that night and then the morning of [the match] we have [our] walkthrough and stuff.
“But then last week, all the way until I think we were warming up to get out there and do our thing… Colesy went down again and [Taukei’aho] had even shorter time to prepare so what [he’s done over] the last two weeks has just been unreal.
“For him to be named fully in the squad for the whole week, I think it will be a good chance for him to show what he can really do.”
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Given that Taukei’aho was only told late in the piece that he was was set to play international rugby both weekends, the young hooker likely didn’t have time to get too nervous ahead of his first two matches. Tu’inukuafe said he and Taukei’aho had spoken about whether this week would be more of a challenge, given the early notice.
“We talked about it,” revealed Tu’inukuafe. “He said he’d probably be more nervous now that he’s had the whole week to prepare and doesn’t know what to do with all the time and all that stuff.
“When you’re thrown under the bus, you kind of step up to the plate but when you’ve got the whole week, it’s a whole other mental challenge and everything. It’s going to be up to him to see how he does.”
Head coach Ian Foster was also complimentary of the work that Taukei’aho has done since joining the squad.
[He’s] settled in well, done what we’ve asked him really, really well,” Foster said on Thursday.
Aumua, now fit and able, spent last weekend representing Wellington in the NPC and is set for a similar role this week. Foster suggested that Taukei’aho’s stint in the No 16 jersey was a product of both wanting to keep Aumua clocking up minutes after a few weeks absent from the game, as well as maintaining continuity in a side that gelled relatively well against the Wallabies in last weekend’s 33-25 win.
“We had a strategy with Asafo to send him back and play for Wellington,” said Foster. “He did that and I think that was really positive for him and we just felt that, again, the desire to keep the combinations going, to really grow … our game was the reason behind keeping Samisoni there.”
Altogether, the All Blacks have made just three personnel changes to the 23 that featured at Eden Park last weekend, bringing in Will Jordan to the starting lineup and replacing Patrick Tuipulotu and Brad Weber on the bench with Scott Barrett and TJ Perenara.
This weekend’s clash will also take place at Eden Park – the site where the Wallabies haven’t triumphed against the All Blacks since 1986.
The match is set to kick off at 7:05pm NZT.
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