The owner of perhaps the best first scrummaging effort in international rugby, Karl Tu'inukuafe, is on the brink of his first start for the All Blacks – against the renowned set piece men from Argentina.

Joe Moody's broken thumb is a blow for the Crusaders player but not necessarily the All Blacks in the medium to long term and certainly not the former bouncer with the bushy moustache who will play for the Blues next season.

It means the story of Tu'inukuafe, 25, already a bit of a cult hero for his remarkable rise from overweight club player to an All Black who helped smash the French in his first scrum on debut at Eden Park in June, is about to take another twist.

After that memorable performance in Auckland, Tu'inukuafe has played four more as a replacement – two more against the French and the two Bledisloe Cup tests against Australia.


Moody's absence from the rest of the Rugby Championship due to his fracture picked up in his last test against the Wallabies means the way is clear for the All Blacks to test their depth against the Pumas and Springboks, the owners, it must be acknowledged, of significantly better scrums than Australia.

Tu'inukuafe should start against the Pumas at Nelson's Trafalgar Park a week on Saturday, although Tim Perry from the Crusaders and Blues prop Ofa Tuungafasi will also have claims to the No1 jersey.

Tu'inukuafe made his Chiefs debut this year. Before that, few at the upper echelon of New Zealand rugby, including All Blacks coach Steve Hansen had heard of him and it came three years after his doctor told him he had to lose a considerable amount of weight.

He's listed now at 135kg and estimates he lost 30-40kg.

"I was complaining about pain in my legs and stuff and he [the doctor] was explaining that all my bad health decisions with eating were leading to a heart attack," he said after his first selection.

"When he told me to lose weight, the easiest way was to play rugby with my brothers and family.

"I'd rather do it with them on the field, than lose it by myself, so it made it easier."

It is an inspirational story from a man who also has that relatively rare ability to play both sides of the scrum, a strength in all senses of the word when he switched across to tighthead in the friendly fixture against Canterbury and Otago in Christchurch a week before the first Bledisloe Cup test in Sydney.


His Chiefs teammate Brodie Retallick has been in plenty of scrums with Tu'inukuafe but even he was surprised at how well the big man responded.

"It wasn't until the game of three halves the other week that I [found out] he could actually play tighthead," Retallick said several days later in Sydney. "He's been at loosehead at the Chiefs. I was quite amazed. I was locking behind him for the last 30 minutes when he was there and he was unreal.

"His strength, I'm not sure where it comes from, but he's an amazingly strong guy so I'm sure he'll cope well over there."

There is no doubt Moody and Owen Franks are out on their own as the best props in New Zealand, and perhaps the world, but the talent developing underneath them is equally impressive, with Perry, a relative veteran at the age of 30 who made his debut in Sydney, near the top of the list.

Jeffery Toomaga-Allen and recently called-up Angus Ta'avao are also in the mix.

Tuungafasi is known as a good scrummager who can also play both sides in the front row, and then there is tighthead Nepo Laulala, who has had a terrible injury run at the Chiefs, and is yet to return. Laulala made his test debut in Apia in 2015 and played four tests in total that year but none the year after.

It was then he feared he would never play after a serious knee and quadriceps injury, but in 2017 he played nine tests, the last in Wales in November, before fracturing a forearm.

Laulala's return will represent another tale of triumph over adversity but for now it's Tu'inukuafe time.