Magic Malakai is something special
Thu, 19 Jun 2014 06:43
Malakai Fekitoa's rise to stardom has been escalated due to Conrad Smith's injury but the All Black's coach knows he is special.
Malakai Fekitoa's rise to stardom has been escalated due to Conrad Smith's injury but the All Black's coach knows he has something special in the Highlanders midfielder.
Fekitoa forms a bruising centre combination with veteran Ma'a Nonu as they look to impose some dominance in a Test series that is already wrapped up.
Steve Hansen has read the speculation that Fekitoa and Nonu - two peas from the same pod - can't combine effectively together.
"I've read a few pieces where people are a little nervous about them as a combination," Hansen said.
"Though they're similar in some ways, they're vastly different in others and they'll be a good combination going forward.
"But like with any new combination, it takes time. There will be mistakes.
"It's just what we do when we make the mistakes and how quickly we repair it. I'm not too concerned.
"I think [Fekitoa's] going to be a special player and the guy inside him is already a special player.
"As long as they talk to each other and are reading what's in front of them there shouldn't be too many problems."
Almost as notable as the three changes he has made is the retention of Aaron Cruden at flyhalf ahead of the in-form Barrett who continues to excel in his bench role.
Many pundits - and even Hansen himself, he grudgingly conceded - felt the Hurricanes playmaker deserved what would have been his first start in the No. 10 jersey.
Hansen conceded the new midfield combination forced him to take a rethink on his plans for Barrett.
With the return of Dan Carter imminent, this weekend would have presented an ideal opportunity for the national coaches to get a close-up look at how the 23-year-old performed in the starting role.
"One of the reasons we haven't given Beauden a start is that we don't want two new combinations on the park. The other one is we trust Crudes to do the job," Hansen said today ahead of their main training session of the week.
"It's early in the season for us so we're trying to build combinations back up and get ourselves in position to go into the Rugby Championship in a strong position."
Pressed, Hansen admitted he would likely have started Barrett this week had he not been forced into his midfield tweak.
"We thought a lot about it," he said.
"He's playing really well, but the team comes first. We just feel that's the best thing to do, run with that combination early and bring Beaudy [Barrett] on later on.
"He'll get plenty of game-time."
Hansen also shrugged off the need to see Barrett as a test starter with only two of his 18 test caps earned in the run-on XV - and both of those at fullback.
"If you've got an imagination you can work out what he's going to do when he starts because he does it when he comes on," Hansen said with typical robust directness.
"He's been a fantastic player off the bench if you think about all the tests he's come on and made a difference.
"I'm not sure that Crudes [Cruden] is that type of player either - he's more of a starting flyhalf.
"He [Barrett] will get an opportunity - just like Ben Smith had to wait and when he got an opportunity he took it."
It will be interesting to see whether Hansen backs up that assertion when Carter is back and he's making a decision between Cruden and Barrett for his bench.
The decision to go with Jerome Kaino - back near his best so very quickly - was tough, but went with the territory at this level as the All blacks shoot for the series sweep.
"JK [Kaino] was playing well, so he's got the shot. But Liam is going to be on because Reado won't play the whole game."
Speaking of Read, Hansen offered a tantalising insight into the mindset and drive of the hard-nosed, multi-faceted player who will earn his 62nd test cap on Saturday.
"About two days ago he asked me 'what am I going to hear when you read the team out?'.
"I said 'K Read, No 8', and he just cracked a big smile.
"Since then he's just gone on with renewd energy. He trained fantastically on Tuesday, and has been so bouncing around the hotel, so excited."