Ngani Laumape's biggest loss to New Zealand rugby won't be on the field
That’s not ‘making a name for himself’ in the playing sense, however.
Laumape started to come into his own as a rugby union player in 2017 after first making the shift back from the the 13-man code a year prior and by the time the World Cup rolled around, he was about as useful a player as he was ever going to be for the All Blacks.
That’s not to say he hasn’t improved since then, but his kicking and distribution games won’t set him apart from any of New Zealand’s other major midfield contenders. If the selectors didn’t like his game in 2018, when he was at the peak of his destructive powers, their minds weren’t going to change over the past two seasons.
Where Lauampe is coming into his own, however, is his public displays of honesty.
Following Laumape’s starring role in the Hurricanes’ win over the Blues last July, the midfielder held nothing back in the post-match interview, firing a shot at his critics.
“It’s good to be out here and to perform the way I did,” he said. “A lot of people have been disrespecting my name and I wanted to come out and show everyone the way that I play.
“I’m happy with that. Let those people keep disrespecting my name, because I’m going to turn up every week.”
“Too much people talking, I’m just going to be me.”
Having been low-balled by New Zealand Rugby in his most recent contract negotiations, Laumape had no qualms considering alternative options elsewhere.
“I’m pretty disappointed because I think I offer something in the midfield that no other midfielder can offer in New Zealand,” Laumape told media.
“It wasn’t hard [to make a decision] when I was offered a contract that was asking me to take less in income. Once that had come into perspective, I had to make the best decision for me and my kids.”
Whether you think Laumape deserved more opportunities with the All Blacks or was under-valued by NZR, it’s impossible not to appreciate his recent openness. The game will be worse off without Laumape’s honest responses because it’s such a shift away from what rugby players are normally willing to say.
Sam Cane was dragged over the coals last year when he made comments about the criticism that professional players receive from the wider public which any reasonable punter would find impossible to disagree with.
“You’ve just got to remind yourself hey, they may like to think they know a lot about the game of rugby. In reality, they don’t really,” Cane said on Sky Sport’s The Breakdown.
It perhaps wasn’t the wisest thing to say because of the inevitable blowback – but it was honest and it was accurate, and rugby needs more of it.
Rugby needs characters that are willing to speak out, have opinions and be honest because that infinitely improves the product on offer. That doesn’t mean they need to spout hate, but they should be able to reveal their feelings without being maligned.
Professional sports needs heroes and villains – it works incredibly well for the NBA and it’s something that rugby is sorely missing, particularly in New Zealand where the national union has significant control over all parties concerned.
That’s not a problem in of itself, as long as players are willing to behave like individuals – but that’s never going to happen if they get shut down every time they open their mouths and speak ‘out of turn’, as some would say.
Laumape is one of the few players that’s willing to put himself out there and take hits from the critics – and he’ll inevitably face some backlash due to his latest comments – and with him now leaving New Zealand, there’s one less role model for budding players to look up to as someone who’s willing to put their opinion out there.
Ngani Laumape will be missed. Perhaps the Hurricanes will find a replacement for the midfield wrecking ball, and perhaps the All Blacks will go on without him, but Laumape’s candid responses won’t be replaced so easily, and that might be the biggest hole he leaves in the New Zealand rugby landscape.
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