Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Fekitoa takes big step up to centre stage

All Blacks centre Malakai Fekitoa made a big impression on debut. Photo / Alan Gibson
All Blacks centre Malakai Fekitoa made a big impression on debut. Photo / Alan Gibson

After the relative drought of the past fortnight, the points came in a first-half torrent against England last night.

Video


So did the good news for Steve Hansen. A successful return for Kieran Read after the concussion suffered on this very pitch in Hamilton a couple of months ago? Check. Julian Savea carrying on his impersonation of a wrecking ball, albeit one with the finest of touches, steel fists in velvet gloves? Check again. Ben Smith doing what Ben Smith does these days. Same answer.

Video


Among the best of the best for Hansen, though, as he watched his men beat a very good England team to finish the series on the best of notes, would be the performance of Malakai Fekitoa, a player with immense promise, who had a taste of test rugby in Auckland a couple of weeks ago and who last night at Waikato Stadium showed he is at home at this level.

That's not always a given. As Hansen says, not everyone is comfortable at the highest echelon, no matter their talent. The pressure can take its toll on even the most gifted.

Savea will rightly earn praise for continuing his extraordinary try-scoring record in tests - 23 tries in 22 outings, including eight in four tests against England - and so will halfback Aaron Smith for his all-round excellence, but Fekitoa deserves plaudits for helping to turn what was previously a suffocating white blanket of a defence in a tired and threadbare sheet of a thing.

Video


This was always going to be a difficult test for England and, at one stage, it looking like being a rout. As Hansen was quick to remind during the week, they had tried everything against the All Blacks and had come up short in two tests. Working out how to beat the home side at the end of a long season and with home beckoning would have been a tough test of their mental fortitude.

They responded after the break in a way Ireland couldn't manage at this same stage on the same ground two years ago, but after scoring four tries - and it should have been six - in the first half, the All Blacks were also guilty of a slight mental shift.

That will leave Hansen with a "work-on" for his troops as he prepares for the first Rugby Championship match against Australia in Sydney on August 16. That, and a wobbly scrum in the final quarter, but in the 22-year-old Highlanders midfielder Fekitoa, who was replaced after 65 minutes, Hansen has a success story; one that made the vaunted match-up against Manu Tuilagi into a bit of a no-contest.

The All Blacks coach has found the most elegant of solutions for Conrad Smith's back-up, one who carries more of an attacking threat than the veteran centre and one which leaves Ben Smith where he belongs - in the back three. His future looks bright.

- Herald on Sunday

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n6 at 21 Aug 2014 02:23:54 Processing Time: 555ms