In a side filled with heroes, one who has gone largely unnoticed is All Blacks’ tighthead prop Nepo Laulala.
Laulala’s position is critical to rugby sides, as without a good tighthead prop, the best halves and five-eighths in the world, no team can hope to accomplish much on the field.
His inclusion on the All Blacks’ side could eventually wind up being one of the key stories of the upcoming Rugby World Championships. Laulala’s naming comes at an opportune time, as the All Blacks have seen Charlie Faumuina defect to France. Owen Franks is injured, so without Laulala, the All Blacks’ backside would have been seriously undermanned.
The 26-year-old Laulala missed the past year, but he was key in a 35 – 29 win over Australia in his first game back. He was also brilliant in wins over Argentina and South Africa, despite playing with the lingering effects of three ligament ruptures to his right knee and a torn quad muscle. The medics sewed him back toghethr using muscle grafts from his hamstrings.
Laulala now plays with enough straps on his knee to stock a store dedicated to orthopedic supplies, but play he does and his is scrummaging well, a great relief to everyone in the Kiwi fold.
An inability to play the scrums well punished both Australia and Argentina at Canberra, but All Blacks Coach Steve Hansen diplomatically sidestepped questions about which side was at fault.
“There’s a lot of scrums that fall over because there’s a lot of pressure coming from two sides and if someone’s technique isn’t quite right then it’s going to fall over. If you over-extend, you’re going to fall over. If you want to buy a penalty you’re going to fall over, because it’s a 50-50 call,” Hansen said.
The All Blacks’ injury list would make many sides proud, if they were playing. At least the stalwart Wayne Crocket on the loose side, but Joe Moody is lost for the season.