WELLINGTON, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Uncapped fullback David Havili is likely to make his New Zealand test debut against Argentina next week when the world champions look to seal a second straight Rugby Championship title.
The 22-year-old was brought into the squad at the start of the southern hemisphere competition after Jordie Barrett was ruled out with a shoulder injury.
Coach Steve Hansen said he had been impressed with the way Havili had settled into the squad and, with regular fullbacks Ben Smith (sabbatical) and Israel Dagg (knee) unavailable, hinted he could get his opportunity in Buenos Aires.
The All Blacks lead the Rugby Championship on 19 points after four successive victories and can clinch the title with a game to spare with victory against the Pumas.
“He’s a confident young man, and plays like that,” Hansen said before the team left on Friday. “He came in a little overawed, as all new All Blacks are. It can be really overwhelming.
“But we’ve given him enough time to get through that phase of his All Black career, and he is now starting to train well, and looks more comfortable in the environment.
“We’re looking forward to taking the next step with him.”
Hansen has been forced into making a late reshuffle to his plans for the All Blacks’ final two Championship matches in Argentina and South Africa.
Flyhalf Lima Sopoaga dropped out of the side for Argentina to remain at home as he awaited the birth of his first child, prompting Hansen to bring Beauden Barrett back into the squad.
Barrett had been one of six players rested for the Argentina leg of the trip before joining the squad in South Africa.
World Player of the Year Barrett is the only specialist flyhalf in the squad for the Pumas game. Utility man Damian McKenzie is likely to start at fullback and provide cover for the pivotal flyhalf role, allowing Hansen to bring Havili off the bench.
Sopoaga, who was expected to be given his first test start in more than two years against the Pumas, said his daughter had been born on Saturday.
The 26-year-old started in his debut test against the Springboks shortly before the 2015 World Cup and has made 10 further appearances off the bench since.
“If I have to wait another 799 days to start a test match ... I tell you what, the gift I was blessed with today is well worth it,” he said on his Twitter page.
Sopoaga is now expected to join the side in South Africa for their final clash against the Springboks in Cape Town on Oct. 7.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford