NEW PLYMOUTH, New Zealand (Reuters) - All Blacks coach Steve Hansen had put the rugby world on notice about Vaea Fifita ahead of Saturday’s Rugby Championship victory over Argentina but despite a man-of-the-match performance said he still expected more from the flanker.
“We said he’s a good athlete and we saw that,” said Hansen, who beforehand had declared Fifita the most gifted natural athlete he had coached. “I don’t think that he’s the finished product. There’s a long way to go before that.
“But there’s a tank with plenty in it and it’s our job to bring that out and his job to work on his game and get better and reach his potential.”
Before the game at Taranaki Regional Stadium, Hansen had suggested Fifita could put ‘the fear of god’ into Argentina in his first start for New Zealand.
He compared his physicality to that of noted former All Blacks hardmen Jerry Collins, Chris Masoe and Rodney So’oialo and said he was impressed most of all with Fifita’s pace.
The 25-year-old Fifita demonstrated that speed when he outsprinted several Pumas backs to score a sensational try with the All Blacks down to 14 men to rally the world champions to a 39-22 victory.
He also proved very difficult to defend as he accumulated 113 running metres, beat 11 defenders and made three clean breaks as he terrorised the Pumas with his high running action.
While Fifita’s try was something out of the ordinary and another barnstorming burst down the sideline put Damian McKenzie over for a try only for it to be ruled out for a forward pass on review, he was virtually anonymous in defence.
The loose forward made just four tackles, missed two others and did not claim a turnover, a stark contrast to regular blindside flanker Jerome Kaino, who has a more defensive job description for the side.
All Blacks captain Kieran Read, however, said Fifita had impressed him with his ability to simply concentrate on what he had been asked to do.
“He looks an athlete,” Read said. “He just stuck at it.
“I think the best thing was that he did his job early and when he got a chance he showed us his skills.”
Writing by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Clare Fallon