Lauaki primed for All Black debut
June 9, 2005

An extra dose of Pacific pace and power looks set to be unleashed on Fiji as bruising flanker Sione Lauaki is primed for his All Blacks rugby debut at North Harbour Stadium tomorrow night.

A pinched sciatic nerve is likely to sideline reserve loose forward Mose Tuiali'i, with Tongan-born Lauaki to take his place on the bench after training with the All Blacks this week.

A decision is not likely until tomorrow morning but it seems probable Lauaki will be unleashed against several of the players he starred alongside for the Pacific Islanders on their inaugural tour last year.

It would be fitting for him and winger Sitiveni Sivivatu to make their debuts together at the Albany ground because the Chiefs teammates were standouts when the combined Pacific team sent a fright through the All Blacks a year ago.

All Blacks coach Graham Henry said Lauaki was asked to train with the All Blacks this week because of his enormous potential.

He is arguably the most powerful ball-carrying forward in New Zealand and can also be devastating on defence.

The biggest question marks in his short career have centred on his fitness and work rate.

"It's been a good experience for him and it's been good for the trainers to get hold of him as well," said Henry, who noted that Lauaki's introduction would lift the number of new caps in the squad to six.

"That's quite a high percentage so it's important the old fellas make the newcomers feel good when they leave that field."

The other new caps will be hooker Derren Witcombe and lock James Ryan in the starting pack while outside back Sosene Anesi and prop Campbell Johnstone are on the bench.

Henry said all the newcomers had settled in well this week and, aside from some extra sponsor commitments, they had got through plenty of work.

It was largely away from the spotlight as the Lions continue to attract most attention from the rugby community.

Henry said the All Blacks were much further advanced than at the same stage last year, recalling that assistant coaches Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen arrived home from European commitments just a couple of weeks out from their first test of 2004 against England.

One week's preparation with a new-look team bore spectacular success, the All Blacks winning 36-3 at Carisbrook in one of their best openings to a season.

This time it was just a matter of reminding the core of the team of the methods learned on their successful season-ending tour last year.

Fresh ideas were still being introduced, however, including some innovations from new kicking and catching coach, Australian Mick Byrne.

"We're trying to set the foundations for the remainder of the season, which you always try to do in the first test so it's no different," Henry said.

"We have narrowed our game plan so we're not trying to do too many things in the first test match.

"It's important that the new caps come off the field feeling really positive about their first experience in the All Blacks jersey."

Captain Tana Umaga said the All Blacks coaching team had obviously learned and adapted in their 12 months in charge.

"With a year under their belts they've changed their style a bit," Umaga said.

"The players that have come back are a lot more confident in knowing what we need to achieve and how to go about achieving it.

"That's come across with the coaches as well. I think everyone knows where they stand."

After playing second five-eighth for most of the last year, Umaga had spent much of this week reaquainting himself with his old position of centre outside Aaron Mauger.

"I don't know why they're trying to push me out but hopefully it's not to the sideline or off the field," Umaga smiled.

The first $100,000 of profit from tomorrow night's game goes to the cash-strapped Fiji Rugby Union.

That will be a big boost for a side who Henry believes are showing obvious signs of improvement under former Auckland coach Wayne Pivac.

While Pivac is introducing a pragmatic side to their game, there still remains a traditional approach from the Fijians.

The Fiji Times newspaper reported this week that captain Mosese Rauluni led the team to "touch the dew" at North Harbour Stadium on Tuesday night.

"Rauluni looked to the sky as his namesake did in biblical times when he led the Israelites out of Egypt," the report said.

"Moses and the Israelites collected manna when dew fell early in the morning."

NZPA

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