Waisake Ratunideuba Naholo and Malakai Fonokalafi Fekitoa sat near each other during Blues team discussions throughout their Super rugby debut season in 2013.

They rarely said anything and like many others in the room, could not be coaxed into contributing ideas about the team's progress.

It was hardly surprising as the 20-year-old Fekitoa and 21-year-old Naholo were rookies in the squad, quiet young men looking to learn as others like coaches John Kirwan, Graham Henry, Mick Byrne and captain Ali Williams, Keven Mealamu and Luke Braid led the chat.

Neither made enough impact to rattle the selectors' antennae hard enough.


Naholo started two games against the Bulls and Highlanders and was subbed in both while Fekitoa never played a minute. When the season finished they were shifted to the unwanted list.

However tonight they were the only backs from that Blues group to make the All Blacks squad for the World Cup with Naholo's selection even more remarkable after fracturing his leg 44 days ago in his test debut against Argentina.

Medical opinion was the crack would heal in six weeks and that natural progression was confirmed with x-rays while Naholo also spent time in Fiji using local restorative treatments.

Waisake Naholo has recovered from injury to take a spot in the All Blacks Rugby World Cup squad. Photo / Getty

His recovery and the remarkable two-test Bledisloe Cup burst from Nehe Milner-Skudder shut out old hands returning from injury, Israel Dagg and Cory Jane and an in-form Charles Piutau.

Picking Naholo, Milner-Skudder and Julian Savea as wings is a gamble on their sustained fitness and Savea's lack of recent form especially with Piutau in such good shape on the park.

If the wings all hit their marks though, they bring a diverse range of speed, skill and power which will make them a threat to any opposition.

Naholo's has been a circuitous adventure to the top, playing for Wanganui while still at school, Taranaki, NZ under 20's, national sevens, the Blues, the Highlanders, getting a release from a deal he signed with Clermont-Auvergne and playing for the All Blacks.

Fekitoa's journey was not quite so convoluted as he shifted south last year to acclaim at the Highlanders and ascension to the All Blacks.


Ripening rugby talent is never straightforward. The variables are so many from timing to chemistry and the mysteries of an environment.

Selection is just one segment and the Blues ticked that box but even their multi-experienced coaching group could not find the right mix to activate Naholo and Fekitoa.

By his own admission, Fekitoa did not get his attitude sorted well enough to play for the Blues and he never challenged hard enough to deserve more. He was up against Francis Saili, Jackson Willison and Rene Ranger in midfield.

Naholo' path to selection on the wing was barred by Frank Halai, George Moala, sometimes Ranger and his own diffidence. On debut Naholo had a shaky start against the Bulls, dropped an up and under and looked uncertain.

When he moved south, both he and Fekitoa got multiple chances because the talent pool was not as deep, they were fit, they were physical, damaging. and comfortable with that scene.

When Jamie Joseph eased his approach and Tony Brown arrived with his buoyant style, the unfulfilled Blues duo filled the gaps around Aaron and Ben Smith, Lima Sopoaga and Patrick Osborne.

Now they are heading for their first World Cup while the rest of that Blues backline looks enviously.

All Blacks Rugby World Cup Squad:

Props: Tony Woodcock, Wyatt Crockett, Owen Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Ben Franks
Hookers: Dane Coles, Keven Mealamu, Codie Taylor
Locks: Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano
Loose Forwards: Jerome Kaino, Liam Messam, Richie McCaw (c), Sam Cane, Kieran Read, Victor Vito
Halfbacks: Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Tawera Kerr-Barlow
First-Fives: Dan Carter, Beauden Barrett, Colin Slade
Midfield Backs: Ma'a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Conrad Smith, Malakai Fekitoa
Outside Backs: Waisake Naholo, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Julian Savea, Ben Smith

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