Forwards pay tribute to Wai-sake Na-holo
New Plymouth: Near the end of every Taranaki rugby training the forwards and backs break up, form a huddle and come up with a humorous chant. At the far end of the No 2 ground at Yarrow Stadium it started like a deep, pitch-less chorus. Waisake Na-holo, Waisake Na-holo. It got louder and louder. It might not have been original, given ‘The Zoo’ blast it out at every Highlanders home match, but it summed up how the Taranaki players feel about having the All Blacks flyer back for Sunday’s Mitre 10 Cup semifinal against Tasman. The man himself just smiled, the grin almost as big as his calf muscles that appear to have grown substantially since he last played for Taranaki. That was back in 2014 when Taranaki beat Tasman to win the ITM Cup. Omen?
“It’s been a while,” he said post-training. “A lot has happened since then.” It has. Naholo, 25, made all posts a winner when he was drafted into the Highlanders last season, his form earning him selection in the All Blacks before he fractured his leg, throwing him into a race to heal in time for the Rugby World Cup. He made it, although his impact was minimal after it became clear he wasn’t quite right. This season has mirrored the last as he has got himself into peak condition only for injury to impact instead of side-step him. Not that he’s complaining. Life, he says, was about a seven or eight out of 10 at the moment.
“It’s not perfect but it’s good. With rugby there is still a lot to work on but outside of rugby everything is all good.” A shoe-in to make the All Blacks end-of-year tour squad when it’s announced on Sunday, Naholo wants to do everything he can to help Taranaki make it to their second final in three years. In fact, he would have played last week but his request to All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was met with a negative as he was told to rest up following some long haul flights from Argentina to South Africa before he returned to New Zealand. “I just enjoy playing rugby and Taranaki is home to me. I come back when I’m not playing and I’m really itching to play, I’m always keen to pull on the amber and black. “When the All Black coaches said I could come back and play I was a bit nervous, as well. Even when I was coming down I was thinking about playing and training. I’m really looking forward to.” Post the semifinal, Naholo wants to end the season on the right note. “I just want as much game time as I can get.” - Stuff