Fekitoa proves his worth to the Highlanders

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 28/02/2014
Malakai Fekitoa
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ

PRIME MOVER: Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa on the burst against the Blues last weekend.

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Malakai Fekitoa came south looking for more opportunities and with one searing run up the middle of Dunedin Stadium it quickly became obvious that he'd made the right decision.

The Highlanders centre was a rookie member of the Blues squad during last year's Super Rugby competition.

Unable to break into the team, although he did get a run against France when Rene Ranger was away on All Black duties, he was faced with another season of watching from the sidelines before eagerly accepting an invitation from Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph to move to Dunedin.

Having previously uprooted his life as a 17-year-old when he moved from Tonga to New Zealand to take up a scholarship at Auckland's Wesley College, Fekitoa was open to the idea of some rugby adventure, although he had been a little daunted at the prospect of restarting his career in the south.

"I didn't really know anyone, but everyone has helped me and welcomed me to the team," he said.

Fekitoa repaid that faith on Saturday night against his former franchise 13 minutes into the first half when the ball squirted out of a ruck and was flicked up to him near the halfway line.

Fekitoa showed the sort of blistering speed which saw him star for the Auckland sevens team in Queenstown a couple of years ago, giving the Blues cover defence not chance after he ran through a gap in the line.

"I was in the right place at the right time, I got through and I was just looking at the tryline. I was lucky enough to get there," he said.

Family and friends had supported Fekitoa's shift to the Highlanders, and to score a try in an opening round win over his old team had been "the best feeling ever", he said.

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph was full of praise for the 21-year-old, who will be a key player in tomorrow night's second round game against the Chiefs in Hamilton.

"He was very good. He's very young and hasn't had a lot of opportunity and I guess playing against his old mates really motivated him internally to put out a big performance," Joseph said.

"He was very accurate, he didn't make any mistakes, made all his tackles and scored a great individual try. For a 21-year-old he's going to go places if he can get consistency, and that will be the biggest challenge for Malakai, if he can come up with those performances week in and week out."

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