Moli has point to prove with Waikato
Atu Moli has the rest of Waikato’s season to stake a claim to potentially become an All Blacks apprentice - or more - on their endof-year tour.
The 22-year-old tighthead prop has been jumping between Waikato and All Blacks training sessions in recent weeks while nursing a foot injury.
Waikato’s 23-10 Mitre 10 Cup loss to Manawatu on Saturday was Moli’s first outing since the Chiefs lost 27-13 to the Crusaders on July 29 in Super Rugby’s semi-finals.
Moli suffered a small fracture in his foot but the All Blacks have still welcomed him to training during their Rugby Championship campaign.
A season-ending Achilles tendon injury to first-choice tighthead Owen Franks saw Moli’s Chiefs team-mate Nepo Laulala elevated to start ahead of Ofa Tu’ungafasi against the Wallabies in Dunedin last month.
Hurricanes prop Jeff ToomagaAllen was called up as cover and that could have been Moli but for his foot injury.
Moli has yet to really establish himself in Super Rugby having started for the Chiefs on just three occasions this season when Laulala was absent with concussion in April.
But what impact the powerful - yet athletic - and skilful prop did make convinced All Blacks selectors to introduce him to their environment.
Moli replaced Sefo Kautai at half-time as Waikato fell to a third straight defeat against Manawatu that means the Mooloos drop to fifth in the premiership standings.
The captain of New Zealand’s world champion under-20s, in 2015, potentially has just four Waikato games to find some form with their finals hopes badly damaged by losing to Tasman, Northland and Manawatu.
‘‘My job is to play for Waikato first and prove myself here before making the big step,’’ Moli said.
‘‘It’s good to talk and learn with other boys from the All Blacks and it’s definitely an aspiration to get there.’’
Jordie Barrett was an All Blacks apprentice on last year’s end-of-year tour after excelling for the Baby Blacks and Canterbury before signing for the Hurricanes in 2017. His Super Rugby form was outstanding and enough to make the All Blacks squad in June ahead of the Lions series.
An injury to Ben Smith opened the door for Barrett to start at fullback ahead of Israel Dagg in the decisive third test, which was drawn 15-15 and meant the series finished 1-1.
Moli, who is still seeking full fitness after six weeks on the sidelines, needs plenty of water to pass under the bridge to quite reach those heights.
But getting a taste of the All Blacks has ‘‘inspired’’ Moli after reflecting on Waikato’s latest disappointing defeat.
Losing to Northland in week four was bad but not terminal, but getting beaten by Manawatu makes cracking the premiership finals - for the first time since 2011 - an almighty challenge from here.
The Mooloos trail fourth-placed Tasman by just one point but have played a game more than all of the premiership’s top four.
Canterbury lead the standings with North Harbour and Taranaki second and third respectively.
Waikato led Manawatu 10-3 after tries to Pita Ahki and Samisoni Taukei’aho but the Turbos charged home with 20 unanswered points to secure just their second victory of the season that sees them climb to fourth in the championship.
The Mooloos host Wellington in Hamilton next Saturday before challenging for the Ranfurly Shield against the Canterbury juggernaut in Christchurch the week after.
Atu Moli reflecting on Waikato’s 23-10 Mitre 10 Cup loss to Manawatu on Saturday.
Thames Valley prop Hayden Anderson is transferred into an ambulance after suffering a broken leg in his side’s Heartland Championship rugby match against Buller in Paeroa on Saturday.