Collegian Samisoni Taukei'aho (Sargood 2013-2015) says maybe it was a little bit of Dane Coles’ “lucky charm” that led to his magical two-try debut for the All Blacks on Saturday night.
Speaking to media soon after New Zealand’s 60-13 second-test win over Fiji in Hamilton, the 23-year-old was still coming to grips with what had been a whirlwind few days, which had seen him a late callup to the hosts' bench in place of the injured Coles – the man he had idolised over the past decade.
And Taukei'aho certainly took his opportunity in some sort of style, on his Waikato and Chiefs home ground of FMG Stadium Waikato, just across the road from his Fraser-Tech club.
Injected by coach Ian Foster with 25 minutes to play, the power-packed 1.83m, 115kg rake was on point at scrum and lineout time, and showed off all his exciting qualities, racking up the most run metres (28) by a forward in the game, and surging over for two tries.
“It was pretty special,” said Taukei'aho, who had been called into the national squad earlier this month after Asafo Aumua reported concussion symptoms following the season-opening test against Tonga.
“It was a dream come true, to play for the All Blacks, at home.
“[I was] a bit nervous at the start, but we pride ourselves in camp of preparing to play, even if you're not named in the 23. So I was ready, and excited to go, and just went out there and did my job for the team.
“I didn’t think this opportunity would come around this quick. But it’s happened, and I’m just really grateful.”
And, having looked up to Coles for so long, it was something of a surreal feeling that it was his place he should be taking.
“Yeah, he’s a bloody special player,” Taukei'aho said.
“He pretty much took me under his wing when he found out that he got pulled out and I got the callup.
“[There were] a few words from him, he just said ‘go out there and back yourself, and believe in yourself, and you’re here for a reason’.”
Along with the secret to scoring tries, with Coles having bagged a record four the weekend prior in Dunedin?
“Definitely, I think it’s a bit of his lucky charm that came my way,” Taukei'aho said.
With that impressive cameo, Foster admits the selectors now have a nice headache on their hands for the third hooker role, with his Rugby Championship squad being named on Monday.
“Samisoni put his hand up before the series, and there was a lot of debate about him, because we really do believe he’s got the goods at the next level,” Foster said. “And he’s just proven that. So it’s a good conversation.
“He’s been in for two weeks and he’s been outstanding, quite frankly, behind the scenes, he’s done his homework.
“He just backs himself, and showed that he can be an accurate rugby player.
“What I love about Samisoni is that for the last two years there’s been no doubt that he’s been a really strong, influential ball carrier and defender round the park, but his core skills, I think by his own admission, just weren’t quite up to the level, particularly his lineout work.
“And he’s gone away and done some great work with Barnesy [Neil Barnes] and Clayton [McMillan] at the Chiefs and really developed his skill in that space. And we saw this year he got more and more confident, and suddenly he’s got a callup.
“He’s probably got fitter now than he’s been for a long time, and, at the age of 23, he’s desperate for an opportunity, and he’s done what people really dream of doing – that when the door does open, you want to make a statement. He’s made a statement.”