WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Vaea Fifita is well aware he has one last chance to convince All Blacks coach Steve Hansen that he deserves one of the few remaining slots up for grabs in his Rugby World Cup squad, the coach of the loose forward’s provincial side has said.
Fifita was one of nine players released to appear for their local sides in New Zealand’s provincial championship this weekend, with Hansen giving them the opportunity to impress before naming his World Cup squad next Wednesday.
“He’s got a lot to play for,” Wellington coach Chris Gibbes told reporters on Wednesday.
“He’s coming back full of energy and excitement, he knows as well as the whole country that there’s a lot to play for.”
The 27-year-old Fifita, who started against Argentina and came off the bench against South Africa last month, was not included in the matchday squad for the two Bledisloe Cup matches against Australia.
Hansen named Ardie Savea as his blindside flanker with Sam Cane and captain Kieran Read and he appears to have settled on the trio as his preferred starting combination heading into Japan.
With Savea’s ability to play all three loose forward positions and openside flanker Matt Todd in contention, Fifita is competing with Luke Jacobson, Jackson Hemopo and perhaps even Liam Squire for the fifth spot in the squad.
Squire was the first-choice blindside flanker for the last two years but, beset by injury, ruled himself out of contention for the Rugby Championship, though Hansen has said he would be considered if he made himself available.
While Fifita, like Hemopo, could also cover lock in the World Cup squad Gibbes said he had not been given any instruction where to play him on Friday against Canterbury.
“The All Blacks have got plans in place for him, our part of it is to give Vaea game time and get him ready to go,” Gibbes said.
“Those players (All Blacks) will know that there’s a bigger plan in place for all of them, and again they’ll know what they need to work on.
“I’m excited to see what he can do out there.”
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Peter Rutherford)