WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Uncapped centre Ngani Laumape has given Steve Hansen a timely reminder of his attacking abilities as the All Blacks coach looks to replace the injured Ryan Crotty for Saturday’s second test against the British and Irish Lions.
Crotty pulled his hamstring in the 30-15 first test victory over the Lions in Auckland last weekend and Anton Lienert-Brown is expected to partner Sonny Bill Williams in the midfield in Wellington on Saturday.
Laumape, however, could earn a spot on the bench after he finished a brilliant move by the Wellington Hurricanes in their 31-31 draw with the Lions on Tuesday, smashing Lions flyhalf Dan Biggar out of the way to score.
“He was an absolute wrecking ball,” Hurricanes winger Nehe Milner-Skudder told reporters.
”It’s pretty easy when you’ve got a guy like him hitting off that first receiver and gets the boys great go forward.
“You can see a lot of confidence that he’s come back with from being away with the All Blacks and I‘m just excited to be outside a guy like him that he’ll create a lot of opportunities.”
It was Laumape’s ability to create opportunities for the Hurricanes, who top Super Rugby this season with 85 tries, that elevated him into the All Blacks squad.
Laumape and his centre partner Vince Aso are also the joint top individual scorers with 14 each.
Remarkably, Laumape is in just his second year back in Super Rugby after spending three seasons playing National Rugby League (NRL) with the New Zealand Warriors.
“He was a great schoolboy footballer ... and got lured to the dark side and played in the NRL,” Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd said.
”But his childhood dream was always to be an All Black and so we had an opportunity to contract him.
”Last year for us he was sort of in that learning transition and he grew last year but he ... worked incredibly hard in the offseason and came back really fit.
“I think that gave him the opportunity to do things, to do more things and he has just got more confident.”
That confidence has allowed Laumape to develop other aspects of his game to the point he now draws comparisons with All Blacks great Ma‘a Nonu, who also started his career as a battering ram but became a far more nuanced player.
“He’s got a more rounded game than people give him credit for, he’s got quite a nice little kicking game, he’s obviously brutal on the carry and he’s becoming a much smarter defender and he’s a tough man to mark,” Boyd said.
“I think he’s going from strength to strength on the field, and he’s been great in the environment off the field, too.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Nick Mulvenney