Fifita’s big chance to impress
The hulking mass of athleticism that is Vaea Fifita has been handed the biggest opportunity of his young test rugby career to show that New Plymouth’s highlight reel breakout was less a flash in the pan and more a harbinger of what’s to come.
The All Blacks are banking on the latter by naming him to start on the blindside flank in the first test of their northern tour against France on Sunday.
“It’s a big test for him,” said coach Steve Hansen, no doubt eager to see how the 1.96m, 25-year-old Wellingtonian copes in the cauldron of nearly 82,000 fans at the Stade de France.
Fifita is the notable selection in an All Blacks starting XV containing three changes to that which ran out for the 23-18 Bledisloe defeat in Brisbane, though the reality is he gets there by default.
Liam Squire missed Tuesday training through illness and wasn’t considered, and Jerome Kaino will head back to New Zealand post-test after suffering a posterior cruciate ligament injury.
The other two changes to the starting group from Brisbane sees Beauden Barrett return at No 10 and hard-nosed Cantab Luke Romano replace Scott Barrett in the second row. Barrett drops to the bench, as does Lima Sopoaga, and they are joined there by openside flanker Matt Todd who has again nudged Ardie Savea out of the backup spot, but will be hoping this time he can see it through. In Brisbane he was a late withdrawal with a groin strain.
Damian McKenzie, Waisake Naholo, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (capt), Sam Cane, Vaea Fifita, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles, Kane Hames.
Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Scott Barrett, Matt Todd, TJ Perenara, Lima Sopoaga, Anton LienertBrown.