Crusaders' Moody relishing unexpected season
Until Joe Moody joined the All Blacks recently he had never attended a test match.
Loosehead prop Moody, a shock call-up as cover for Tony Woodcock (nose infection) and Ben Afeaki (calf), trained with the All Blacks before the first test against France at Eden Park on June 8 and was then invited to remain in Auckland to participate in the pre-match warm-ups and watch the game in front of a 46,500-strong crowd.
"That was the first All Blacks test I had ever been to and I was sitting on the bench (alongside the reserves) for it. The only thing that came close to that was when the Crusaders played in front of around 50,000 in Africa - when we played the Stormers."
The unexpected adventure began when All Blacks manager Darren Shand rang him at his Christchurch home to say he was required to fly north.
Moody, not recognising the number, pondered whether to ignore the call. Not recognising Shand's voice, he then wondered if one of his mates had instigated a gee-up.
"At the start I thought it could be a bit of a joke but it didn't take long, only a couple of seconds into the call, when I realised 'this is for real'. I tried to hold back the excitment on the phone, though."
The 24-year-old's jump into the national squad may have been brief but he should take some encouragement from the invitation.
Although All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is monitoring a number of back-up tightheads behind his key specialist Owen Franks, and Jeff Toomaga-Allen, Charlie Faumuina (both injured) and Ben Tameifuna are among them, he will seek to build his loosehead stocks ahead of the 2015 World Cup.
Wyatt Crockett, having been named to start once again for the third test, is in the throes of challenging 96-test veteran Woodcock for his position and Ben Franks, who can play both sides of the scrum, also offers options along with Afeaki.
After this foursome the options begin to thin-out.
Had Afeaki not recovered from his calf strain, Moody, a former wrestler whose Crusaders' appearances have largely been limited to a substitute's role because of Crockett's presence, would have been on the bench for the Auckland test.
When Afeaki was declared fit it meant Moody, who participated in all trainings and was schooled-up on the All Blacks' game plans and systems, was shipped back to Christchurch after the match.
Aiming to make the end-of-year tour appears to be a logical goal, although Hansen didn't discuss this.
"But I had a couple of conversations with Mike Cron, the forwards coach, and he basically said he likes the way I am tracking. I have just got to keep chipping away," Moody noted.
Moody may get a chance to impress Cron as early as next weekend when the Crusaders meet the Highlanders in Dunedin.
Coach Todd Blackadder has hinted he may rest Crockett and pitch Moody, who along with lock Dominic Bird has been the Crusaders most impressive rookie this year, into the starting side.
"For me, with Wyatt Crockett starting all three tests, I think we would be foolish to consider him to be a starting player when you have a young fit player like Joe Moody," stated Blackadder.