NZ Rugby World - - Next Generation -


AGE: 26 HEIGHT: 1.84M // WEIGHT: 125KG CAPS: 7 // PO­SI­TION: PROP DE­BUT: 2015 There was a bit of a false dawn for Nepo Laulala. He made it into the All Blacks squad in 2015, but never quite nailed his op­por­tu­nity.

He’d im­pressed for a cou­ple of years with the Cru­saders, win­ning in­creas­ing amounts of game time along­side Owen Franks and the All Blacks liked his work in the core area of scrum­mag­ing.

Ev­ery­one was hope­ful that hav­ing taken the de­ci­sion to head to the Chiefs in 2016, Laulala would push on and force his way back into con­tention. But dis­as­ter struck be­fore the sea­son be­gan.

“I was pre­par­ing for the Su­per sea­son in Jan­uary last year,” says Laulala. “It was close to the sea­son start­ing and we were hav­ing a clar­ity walk through with the team and some of the boys weren’t abid­ing by what the coaches were say­ing which was to stick to 50 per cent in­ten­sity.

“They were hiss­ing in and I went over the ball and wasn’t even braced. I got the shock of my life. I was gone for the whole year. I snapped three lig­a­ments and tore my quad mus­cle o the bone. It was pretty bad.”

He re­quired surgery and missed the re­main­der of the year. It was a bad in­jury: cer­tainly a hard one for a man his size from which to re­cover.

Then there was the po­si­tion he plays – which is all about ex­plo­sive power and weight bear­ing in scrums and con­tact ar­eas. Would his knee be able to be re­built to hold up to those sorts of de­mands?

It took him a while to re­build his con­fi­dence when he re­turned to ac­tion ear­lier this year. But slowly the signs started to look good for him – that he was re­turn­ing to his best form.

He wasn’t orig­i­nally picked by the All Blacks but was called in when Owen Franks’ Achilles fi­nally gave way ahead of the test against the Wal­la­bies in Dunedin.

“I was in bet­ter shape when I re­turned to Su­per Rugby this year,” he says. “But be­cause our job up front is quite heavy it took a while to get my con­fi­dence back after such an hor­rific in­jury.

“It was hard to stop wor­ry­ing about my leg. It was about get­ting my game fit­ness up. I am feel­ing pretty good now. It is a mat­ter of not tak­ing things for granted.

“I had a lot of time to think about things last year and I have grown up a lot and I am not afraid of fail­ure. I keep learn­ing and mov­ing on and be­ing grate­ful for ev­ery op­por­tu­nity I get.”

He’s shown that at­ti­tude by play­ing su­perbly for the All Blacks since Dunedin. His scrum­mag­ing has been ex­cel­lent. Rock steady and al­most as good as Franks’.

He’s also shown con­sid­er­able abil­ity to de­fend – to move well around the field and make a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of tack­les. The one area of his game that he’s been asked to work on harder is his at­tack.

“I have been fo­cus­ing a lot on de­fence since I came back [from in­jury]. I lost my touch a bit with the other side which is at­tack. I am try­ing to im­prove my ball carry and catch-pass.”

The im­por­tant thing from the All Blacks’ per­spec­tive is that they have a ready-made re­place­ment for Franks.

NEW MAN Nepo Laulala has an im­proved at­ti­tude since he dam­aged his knee.

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