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Barnstorming Aumua no All Blacks apprentice on Europe tour

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Barnstorming Aumua no All Blacks apprentice on Europe tour

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By Greg Stutchbury WELLINGTON (Reuters) – It was never really going to be a case of if Asafo Aumua made the All Blacks squad, more a matter of when. The moment arrived on Monday when the hooker, whose hat-trick in the under-20 World Cup final in June had him marked out as the next big thing in New Zealand rugby, was named in the 37-strong party for the end-of-season tour. With coach Steve Hansen dispensing this year with the “apprentice” policy that saw Ardie Savea and Jordie Barrett tour with the All Blacks to gain experience in 2013 and 2016 respectively, Aumua had to earn his passage as a playing option. The quietly spoken 20-year-old did so in no uncertain fashion, with a series of outstanding performances for Wellington province propelling him into the squad as the fourth hooker behind Dane Coles, Codie Taylor and Nathan Harris. “He’s dominating, he’s dominating when he carries, everything he does, he does really, really well and stands out,” Hansen told reporters after naming his squad on Monday. “That’s not normal for a 20-year-old. So when you see non-normal behaviour which is positive, it’s not too hard to reward it.” Combining the power of 132-cap All Blacks rake Keven Mealamu and the speed of Coles, Aumua made his Wellington debut as a teenager last year and scored a hat-trick of tries against Northland. But it was his barnstorming performances for the ‘Baby Blacks’ at the under-20 World Cup earlier this year that thrust him onto the world stage. Inspired by a good luck video from the children at the after-school care centre in Lower Hutt where he still works, Aumua scored five tries during the tournament. For the last try of his hat-trick in the 64-17 victory over England in the final, Aumua showcased his power by wrestling his way through five would-be tacklers to get to the line. He has also displayed his pace and skill for Wellington this season, most notably when he outpaced Taranaki winger Declan O’Donnell to score one try and stood up Canterbury fullback George Bridge with a stunning in-and-away for another. While his skills with ball-in-hand would impress anyone, Hansen will no doubt be looking just as carefully at his core skills at the scrummage and lineout while they are on tour. “We’ll just do what we do with every new All Black, we’ll just make sure he is ready to go,” Hansen said. “And how much he gets will depend on how ready he is. He seems to be a pretty mature young man. He’s got an opportunity now to spend some time with three good hookers and learn from them and he’ll get a little bit of game time. “He’s one for the future probably but right now we’ll get to know him.” With matches against the Barbarians and a French XV among the five games on the tour, Aumua could pull on the famous black jersey and still return home without a test cap to his name. “The opportunity of this tour with the Barbarians game and the second French game just gives us the opportunity to play someone like him,” Hansen added. “We need four hookers and he’s the obvious young up-and-comer. Rather than being an apprentice, he’ll get to tour and play. He’s pretty special so we’ll see how he goes.”

(Additional writing by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Ian Ransom)
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