Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Hansen's faith in Naholo justified

Waisake Naholo's recovery from a performance against Wales which veered between poor and spectacular to finish on the right side of the ledger was testament to his mental fortitude and faith from coach Steve Hansen.

Instead of dragging the 25-year-old Highlander early in the second half, Hansen decided left wing Julian Savea should make way for the inevitable introduction of Beauden Barrett.

And Naholo made good on Hansen's hunch, scoring a decisive try - his second - from Aaron Smith's quick penalty tap as the match entered its final quarter, which helped the All Blacks regain the lead and enabled the Fiji-born player to leave the field with his head high.

Video

He made plenty of errors - including under the high ball, defensively for Taulupe Faletau's opening try for Wales, and an unwillingness to pass inside to unmarked teammates - but he also proved he is a special player able to change games for the All Blacks and, above all, one worth persevering with.

Significantly, the Blues didn't see the worth in persevering with him in 2013 after a difficult game against the Bulls on Eden Park. He made only one more appearance under coach John Kirwan - against the Highlanders - before being cut loose. He found a new home in the south and, of course, thrived, lighting up Super Rugby as last year's leading try scorer as Jamie Joseph's men won their maiden title.

It was perhaps understandable that Naholo would be desperate to prove himself in the first test of this three-test series. After breaking a leg in his debut test in Christchurch last year, and playing only two matches at the World Cup due to his lack of fitness and form, this was his time to show he is the man for the No14 jersey in Nehe Milner-Skudder's absence with a shoulder injury.

Video

And, having watched his player bounce back from his issues on Saturday night, Hansen believes he will be much better for it.

"We talked out on the field, and he said - well, I won't say what he said, you can't write it - about his first half," Hansen said. "I made the comment, 'son, the pleasing thing is you came through the other side of that'. That takes a lot of effort - mental effort, particularly. We know he's really talented. He hurt them even in the first half, he scored a lovely try.

"When you try too hard sometimes, you make mistakes and I think he's been desperate to show us all just how good he is as a player. The more time he spends in the jersey, the more we'll see he's a real quality player."

Naholo has pace, power and a brilliant sidestep. At times, Wales stood back and allowed him the outside, fearful that he would wrong-foot them, and Naholo was only too happy to say goodbye via his flashing grey-and-salmon-coloured boots.

"It wasn't my best performance but I was happy with the way I kept my composure," said Naholo.

"I was quite angry at myself with all the errors I was making. I think we will have to work on the execution of those simple skills - catching and passing. The next few days will be pretty important for me."

First-five Cruden, who provided the inside pass following Ben Smith's superb high catch and break to set up Naholo's first try, and then watched as the big wing charged through Dan Biggar for his second, said: "I think to Waisake's credit that was a crucial moment in the game there.

"I know that [you guys have alluded to] a few mistakes he made in the first half but I thought he did a fantastic job to keep his composure, keep his head in the game and he came up big for us."

Halfback Smith said: "I saw Biggar and I saw Waisake and I thought, 'they look like pretty good odds'."

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 02 Oct 2016 11:52:56 Processing Time: 735ms