Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

New All Black Ofa Tu'ungafasi: My mum was teary

Like most All Blacks, Ofa Tu'ungafasi - named yesterday in the squad for next month's three tests against Wales - honed his rugby skills at home with his brothers.

In his case, the Tongan-born Tu'ungafasi, who moved to New Zealand with his family in 2006 when he was 14, might have had one advantage - he has 10 brothers, plus two younger sisters, so it was one big happy family on Friday night when the news filtered through that the 24-year-old prop had made the squad.

Tu'ungafasi, who stands 1.95m tall and weighs 129kg, heard the news in the Blues' Eden Park changing room after his team's 26-21 defeat to the Crusaders, via teammate Jerome Kaino. He noticed Kaino looking at him, mobile phone in hand.

"He smiled and gave me a high five so I thought it was good news," Tu'ungafasi said.

The caller was All Blacks manager Darren Shand and it was indeed good news. "He probably didn't have my cellphone number so I got the call through Jerome."

He said he didn't call his parents straight away. "I waited until I got home. I first told my mum because she was still awake. She had teary eyes. My dad was in the back with the boys. They're very happy, very excited."

Tu'ungafasi, one of six new caps in the 32-player squad named yesterday, has trained with the All Blacks and been on coach Steve Hansen's radar for a while thanks to his form at the Blues and ability to play on both sides of the scrum.

"He can play both sides and there's not a lot of people who can do that," Hansen said. "If we didn't have him we'd have to carry six props [instead of five].

"He's got size and physicality. He's mobile. His scrummaging, particularly on the tighthead side, is pretty good. He's a good athlete and we're excited about the opportunity to work with him."

Tu'ungafasi, the fifth son in the family, whose younger brother Isileli plays rugby for Auckland and whose father Mofuike played lock for Tonga at the 1987 World Cup in New Zealand, said: "I remember watching [dad] play when I was very young. Having 10 other brothers at home, there was always a rugby ball around.

"Being here, my first priority is to learn and take in as much as I can; to adapt to the environment. It's the beginning of the next chapter and I'm looking forward to the challenges and what's ahead."

Grammar Tec former chairman and current director of Auckland Rugby Brandon Jackson said the club was "absolutely stoked and delighted" for the new All Black.

Tu'ungafasi has been a part of the Grammar Tec rugby club for five years, and still turns up to play when he can, Mr Jackson said.

Mr Jackson said when Tu'ungafasi first joined the club, he was "very very shy".

But he had seen the All Black grow into a great rugby player.

"Naturally we will see less of him in the field now but we are very proud of him ... it's all part of the process."

- NZ Herald

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