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'We're just scratching the underbelly': Leicester Fainga'anuku is only getting better

By Tom Vinicombe
Leicester Fainga'anuku. (Photo by Martin Hunter/Photosport)

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We’re just one week into the Super Rugby Pacific season and already there’s one name on everyone’s lips: Leicester Fainga’anuku.

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Fainga’anuku was in sublime form for the Crusaders on Saturday night, scoring three tries in his side’s 42-32 defeat of the Hurricanes. The 22-year-old was somewhat of a surprise selection on the left wing for the match, given the presence of All Blacks outside backs Will Jordan, George Bridge and Sevu Reece in the squad, but Fainga’nuku was still given the nod ahead of Reece in the opening game of the season.

This weekend, Fainga’anuku has retained his spot in the run-on side while Bridge has made way for Reece on the right wing.

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The Aotearoa Rugby Pod look back on the opening round of Super Rugby Pacific.
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The Aotearoa Rugby Pod look back on the opening round of Super Rugby Pacific.

That’s a credit to Fainga’anuku’s performance against the Hurricanes but also indicative of how highly the young utility back is rated by coach Scott Robertson after he had a breakout year for the Crusaders in 2021, featuring in the midfield or on the wing 13 times throughout the season, clocking up the equal-most number of appearances for the Crusaders alongside talismanic five-eighth Richie Mo’unga.

Speaking on the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, Super Rugby centurions Bryn Hall and James Parsons were impressed with Fainga’anukue’s performance for the Crusaders and suggested higher honours could be on the cards later in the season.

 

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“I’m going to give [player of the weekend] to Leicester Fainga’anuku,” said Hall, a teammate of Fainga’anuku’s at the Crusaders. “He had three tries, he had 14 carries, he had 13 dominant carries – which is hard to do in this day and age – and he had 33 metres post-contact.”

“I think if he can continue to keep playing like he was in the weekend, I think he will definitely be in contention [for the All Blacks],” Hall later added. “The fact that he can also play centre is big as well.”

Parsons was cautiously optimistic of Fainga’anuku’s chances but suggested there are still a number of players ahead of him in the pecking order.

“If there’s injuries, yes [he’ll make the All Blacks]. But it’s a logjam in that wing spot,” he said.

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“I don’t know if you’d carry both [Fainga’anuku and Caleb Clarke in one squad] but they’re definitely probably going for one spot. I’ve already called [Clarke] for top try-scorer for the year but Leicester’s already got three so I might be wrong.”

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Speaking to media ahead of this weekend’s match with the Highlanders, Crusaders second five David Havili also praised his 22-year-old teammate and indicated we’ve still not seen the best of the dynamic try-scorer.

“I think we’re just scratching the underbelly,” he said. “Obviously you’ve seen it through the [NPC], the way he’s held himself around the last couple of years and no doubt that he’s gonna be there or thereabouts for the next level.

“But I think he’s just enjoying his rugby at the moment and enjoying scoring tries for Tonga as well so the more tries he scores, the more money he gets to go over to Tonga to help them out as well so I’m pretty sure he’s stoked about that.”

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