'We're after specialists': Foster issues challenge to David Havili
After what’s felt like a lifetime of knocking on the All Blacks selection door, David Havili has finally earned himself a recall to the national squad and will start his first test match on Saturday evening.
Havili debuted for New Zealand in 2017 but hasn’t earned a call-up since, featuring off the bench in three tests against Argentina, South Africa and Australia while also earning run-on roles in mid-week matches against a France XV and the Barbarians.
Back then, Havili was viewed primarily as a fullback who could cover wing. In recent times, the 26-year-old has reinvented himself as second five-eighth – but is still more than capable of slotting in across the backline.
With the enviable depth the All Blacks have possessed in the back three over the past few years, Havili was always at short odds to force his way back into a squad of fully fit players, with the likes of Ben Smith, Damian McKenzie, Beauden Barrett and Jordie Barrett all blocking Havili’s path.
In 2020 however, his form was undeniable, and a call-up was looking likely until a run of unlucky injuries curtailed Havili’s hopes of higher honours.
Having flourised in the midfield for the Crusaders throughout the just-finished Super Rugby season – and staying injury-free – Havili has finally found himself back in the All Blacks and is now competing with the likes of Quinn Tupaea and the injured Anton Lienert-Brown for a starting jersey.
This weekend Havili will get the chance to prove he has the capabilities to line up in the centres on the game’s highest stage, with Fiji’s sizeable midfielders likely to test both his skills and physicality.
All Blacks coach Ian Foster has acknowledged that while Havili can slip in across the backline, it’s in the No 12 jersey where they want to test his abilities.
“It’s the opportunity he’s got in front of him right now,” Foster said after naming the All Blacks tam to take on Fiji on Thursday.
“We’ll just take one step at a time but it’s where he played this year, he played well, got him selected and that’s for the jersey we’ve given him. So we’ll just deal with that one at the moment.”
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And while Havili’s versatility might come in use down the track, particularly when the All Blacks travel to France in 2023 for the next World Cup, the challenge at the moment is very much to just nail one role.
“Quite honestly, when it comes to a World Cup squad, [versatility] becomes a big factor because you’re limited to fewer players and your replacement protocols are different,” Foster said. “But when you’re picking a squad in-between years, you’re really looking at people who can really have an edge in a position that’s going to contribute to your game. So versatility’s not really a factor in [selecting] our backline.
“If you look at it, we’ve got a lot of players, you’ve got Rieko who can go midfield, outside, you’ve got Jordie who can do a whole lot of things, we’ve got Beaudie who can go 10, 15. So we’ve got a number of players who are versatile. For us, we’re after specialists primarily.”
Foster also admitted he was hugely pleased with how well Havili took to the No 12 jersey during the Super Rugby season.
“I wouldn’t say I was surprised because he’s always been a quality rugby player,” said Foster. “He was out of contention for us last year because he had a pretty horrific incident at the end of Super Rugby and so he lost an opportunity last year. I’m just more delighted than surprised with how he’s gone about it and how he’s focussed on his job.
“He’s always been skilful and I thought in Super Rugby we saw him go through phases of learning how to deal with the physical side of midfield but I thought by the end of it he did a pretty good job of it, hence he’s here.”
Havili will partner Rieko Ioane in the midfield on Saturday night, with the match set to kick off at 7:05pm NZT from Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
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