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Why three Chiefs won't feature for the All Blacks this weekend

By Tom Vinicombe
Ardie Savea, Tupou Vaa’i and Patrick Tuipulotu of the All Blacks sing the New Zealand national anthem during the Bledisloe Cup match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the Australian Wallabies at Eden Park on October 18, 2020 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

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The All Blacks have made a host of changes to their team for this weekend’s rematch with Fiji in Hamilton, helping to spread the workload across the whole squad for the three games in the July series.

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In fact, of the 38 squad members the All Blacks have called up for the first tests of the year, 35 have been given the opportunity to make their case on the field.

The three unlucky men who won’t feature in any of the matches are the Chiefs forwards trio of Samisoni Taukei’aho, Aidan Ross and Tupou Vaa’i.

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For the former two, that shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise.

Taukei’aho joined the squad after third-choice hooker Asafo Aumua took a knock to the head against Tonga in the opening game of the series. While the Tongan-born rake is excellent around the park, his delivery to the lineout is still a work in progress and Ian Foster and the All Blacks selectors will likely be hoping he can hone his technique before he earns himself a test debut.

It’s a similar story for Ross, who only received the call-up to the squad following last weekend’s win over Fiji, with Karl Tu’inukuafe invalided.

For second-rower Vaa’i, however, the omission is somewhat of a surprise.

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Vaa’i was in fine form for the Chiefs throughout the season and while the All Blacks could have got by without selecting a fifth lock, the 21-year-old’s performances throughout the season undoubtedly convinced the selectors to persist with the youngster.

Vaa’i made his debut for the All Blacks last year after only being summoned into the Chiefs for the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition due to an injury crisis in the second row.

He quickly rose through the ranks and when New Zealand were also struggling at lock due to injuries, Vaa’i was the lucky man to earn selection.

Perhaps his heavy workload for the Chiefs this year has forced the All Blacks selectors’ hands, however.

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“Some guys need more time than others,” said All Blacks assistant coach John Plumtree earlier this week. “Some had bigger Super Rugby seasons, there’s some guys carrying little niggles. So we put all those factors into place then select the team.

“So it’s just making sure that we keep wellbeing in the back of our minds as well, making sure that by the time we’re ready for Bled[isloe] I [in Auckland on August 7], that we’ve got a full squad that’s fit and healthy and ready to play.”

Fellow assistant coach Brad Mooar did indicate after last week’s game that Vaa’i – along with Anton Lienert-Brown and Ardie Savea – could be due for a game this weekend, however.

“Ardie, Albie and Tupou [Vaa’i] are tracking superbly and they’ve taken more and more part of training as the week has gone on, so it will be good to see them start to put more into as we build the week,” Mooar said.

That evidently has eventuated for Vaa’i but Lienert-Brown and Savea have both been named to earn their 50th caps this weekend.

Following today’s team naming, Foster confirmed that Vaa’i was available for selection after recovering from a minor injury but that he’d missed out to his more experienced teammates. He also suggested that an extra week of rest won’t harm the young forward.

“He had a niggle at the start,” Foster confirmed. “21 years old, had a massive Super Rugby campaign, probably played more than even what the Chiefs would have wanted with their shortage of locks and so this campaign is really about getting his Achilles right. His has come right this week but he’s just missed his opportunity.”

It will be disappointing for the second-rower, but with the All Blacks set to play a further 12 tests this year Vaa’i can expect to still chalk up plenty of minutes for the team in the months to come.

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Why three Chiefs won't feature for the All Blacks this weekend

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