Jordie Barrett joins Ngani Laumape as Hurricanes' All Blacks in waiting
There's no cloning going on at Hurricanes Newtown HQ, that we know of, but Beauden Barrett and Ma'a Nonu versions 2.0 are both hard to fault at this early stage.
We know them by the names Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape, and after their starring roles in the 41-15 win over the Highlanders on Saturday it's no stretch to picture both in All Blacks jerseys 15 and 12 by year's end.
"Sometimes you've got to be lucky, if there's injuries in that position, if Nehe [Milner-Skudder] is down and Izzy [Israel Dagg] is still out and something happened to Bender [Ben Smith] again then he's right in the frame, for sure," Hurricanes assistant coach Richard Watt said of Barrett.
"The good thing about Jordie is his versatility and he can probably play anywhere in that backline apart from nine which is pretty valuable to have. They took him on the tour last year and they're pretty happy with him. The good thing about it now is he gets some time to play and show his wares with Nehe out. He'd definitely be in the frame."
Same for Laumape, the former Warriors league player whose Saturday try when he raced around Marty Banks then steamrolled Ben Smith was top class, and had a more than a hint of Nonu about it.
Asked about the pair's All Blacks chances, Watt said: "I'm sure Jordie will go close and Ngani, last year he was injured quite a lot and it was his first year back in rugby and he was finding his way.
"Now he's really settled in and is understanding his position and doing a lot of work with [assistant coach] Jason Holland and he's playing hard. He's a handful, eh?
"From a New Zealand point of view we're lucky he didn't put Bender on the sideline for another six weeks. When he gets those little legs pumping, good luck. It's a bit like Ma'a [Nonu], a power runner in that channel."
While the Hurricanes are flying along at 3-1, via some turbulence against the Chiefs in the wet, the bye was welcomed this weekend before they jet to Brisbane to face the Reds on April 1.
It averted a potential hooking crisis, with Dane Coles (knee) and Ricky Riccitelli (ankle) needing the extra week's recovery but rated likely starters for Brisbane. "They should be back in the mixer next week". Another squad hooker, Leni Apisai, is back on the field and in contention if either falls short.
Centre Matt Proctor (concussion) is the other concern, although the bye will certainly help his chances.
These days everyone takes head knocks seriously, and Proctor was pulled from Westpac Stadium in a hurry on Saturday. Prop Reggie Goodes remains sidelined and isn't being rushed back into physical work after several concussions, and Proctor faces the standard multi-day test.
"I see the NRL have big fines for not pulling players off the field. That's what it's got to now. It's pretty stringent. Last year at the Lions we had a guy who took a knock, Leni Apisai, and the doctor didn't pull him and we got a phone call from the NZ Rugby doctor watching on TV, and he got taken off," Watt said.
"They've got a four-day window to get through a protocol each day. If they get a headache on the second day they've got to go back to the first day. For a guy like Matty, if he's not cleared by Tuesday he'll be no good. He's been good so far, but it's not till they go for a run and get through that daily stuff symptom-free. The bye is at a good time."
Fringe players like Sam Lousi, Reed Prinsep and Wes Goosen will play the development game against the Crusaders in Levin on Saturday.
Watt had positive injury news for the next home match against the Waratahs on April 7, too, with Vaea Fifita (ankle) and Cory Jane (neck) targeted for returns.
In another encouraging sight, dynamic loose forward Blade Thomson (shoulder) galloped about at training and could be back against the Stormers on May 5.
- The Dominion Post