Chirpy Dominic Bird ready to ruffle a few feathers
MARC HINTON IN TOKYO
The Big Bird has been cleared for a belated takeoff, and it has to be said the young man cuts an impressive figure ahead of his test debut.
Dominic Bird has had an agonising wait for this moment, being named in the initial All Blacks squad in June, but having that chance ripped away from him courtesy of a pectoral muscle tear at the business end of the Crusaders' Super Rugby season.
But good things come to those who wait and tomorrow night the 2.06m, 22-year-old Bird will not only become one of four new All Blacks, but he'll also assume the mantle of the tallest to have worn the black jersey - a mark previously held by 2.05m Mark Cooksley.
Bird was wheeled out at yesterday's press conference at the team's Tokyo hotel alongside fellow debutant Frank Halai, and the pair cut contrasting figures as they flanked coach Steve Hansen.
Halai was clearly nervous, and a little ill at ease. He did his best to answer questions, but it was obvious the blockbusting Counties Manukau wing is a man who prefers to do his talking on the field.
Bird, on the other hand, could not have been more relaxed. He was engaging and enlightening as he spoke at length about the frustrations of his injury - "It was gutting" - and his pathway to the All Blacks.
If Hansen is looking for well-rounded men, Bird fits that bill. The young man who grew up in Waipukurau, in central Hawke's Bay, shifted to Christchurch to study for a degree in environmental management at Lincoln (he's still nibbling away at that), has tucked away a year's OE in London and is now thrilled to have finally made the All Black breakthrough.
"I've had two games under my belt, so it's really an honour to come in and get a game straight away. I'm chuffed," he said.
He received some great advice after his June heartbreak. "A lot of people were telling me, 'hey, it's only one setback, there's a long career ahead'. They told me to get to work, get it right and get back on the pitch."
He's done that, helping Canterbury to their sixth national provincial title, then suiting up for the end-of-year tour.
"The boys around you keep you humble and remind you you've got a big job to do," he said of his whirlwind last week or so.
"It's just exciting."
Bird was a little nervous about his looming debut, but the presence of old masters Richie McCaw and Dan Carter helped ease those anxieties.
"Dan and Richie are great leaders of the game and it makes my role easier. They're helping when they can and so are the rest of the guys."
Hansen is just rapt to get another massive physical specimen on the field and adding to his abundant second-row stock.
"He's an athlete, so not only is he tall, he's co-ordinated," said the coach.
"He's got the physical attributes we like in the core role and he doesn't mind hitting rucks. He's still learning the game, but there's a lot of scope there to work with.
"He's had to wait and work hard. He had a bit of adversity in June and he's coped with that mentally well and come back. We're confident he'll only get better and better and put some real pressure on the other guys who are performing really well at the moment."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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