Moli has point to prove with Waikato

Waikato Times - - SPORT - JOSEPH PEARSON

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.

PHOTOSPORT

Atu Moli re­flect­ing on Waikato’s 23-10 Mitre 10 Cup loss to Manawatu on Satur­day.

AARON GOILE/STUFF

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.

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