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Tongan Leicester winger Fainga’anuku was one of six new selections named to the All Blacks’ 36-man squad.
Leicester Fainga’anuku didn’t realize he was an All Black until Richie Mo’unga leaned over and nudged him lightly.
When winger Fainga’anuku joined his Crusaders team-mates at Rugby Park in Christchurch on Monday to watch the All Blacks squad announcement, he waited nervously to hear if his hot Super Rugby Pacific form had been recognized by national coaches.
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But there was a problem.
Even though Fainga’anuku was named in the 36-man squad, he was unaware that NZ Rugby board director Bailey Mackie, who read out the squad list in Auckland, had spoken the magic words.
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“I didn’t hear my name being called,” Fainga’anuku admitted. “I don’t know if I was dreaming ‘imagine if that would happen?’
Mo’unga, who was named the team’s top three five-eighth, was the first to quietly congratulate Fainga’anuku. Then the penny fell with a thud.
“It wasn’t until boys like Richie started touching me,” Fainga’anuku added.
Mo’unga, at the time, did not realize that he had done Fainga’anuku a favor by alerting him to his good fortune. But if it hadn’t been for the quick reaction of the first five eighths, Fainga’anuku might have spent the rest of the announcement wondering if it had gone wrong.
“No, I didn’t,” Mo’unga said. “He may have realized afterwards. He didn’t really give me much or say anything. I think he missed his name…and then we missed the next name after the one that was (Folau) Fakatava.”
Fainga’anuku, who can also play in the center, was not a bolter. After being on manager’s radar last year, he joined Jordie Barrett, Will Jordan, Caleb Clarke and Sevu Reece as the team’s outside defenders for the three-Test series against Ireland next month.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Stephen Perofeta, Folau Fakatava, Pita Gus-Sowakula and Aidan Ross were the other fresh selections. Crusader centre/winger Braydon Ennor and winger George Bridge, Fainga’anuku have replaced the latter on the left flank in recent weeks, both missing the cut.
Tonga-born Fainga’anuku, named after the English city of Leicester in the East Midlands, and Crusaders full-back Jordan are the competition’s top try scorers out of 10, which is a indictment of their ability to attack.
Last year, Fainga’anuku told One News that he got his first name from his father.
“He was playing for Tonga at the time in England in the ’99 World Cup. It was Leicester Stadium. They won by a lost goal, three points and I think they were having a party.
The Fainga’anuku family moved to Auckland in the early 2000s, before moving to Nelson, the city where Leicester began playing first-class rugby for Tasman. In 2019, he was named in the Crusaders squad.
Few New Zealand finishers can match Fainga’anuku’s power with the ball in limited space, as he uses a combination of explosive leg thrust and acceleration to swallow yards.
After hearing the news of his selection, Fainga’anuku had to focus on training with the Crusaders as they prepared for the final against the Blues in Auckland on Saturday night. Ten Crusaders players have been named to the All Blacks.
After Monday’s practice, he had planned to reunite with his parents, who live in Christchurch.
“You can message them as much as you can, a phone call, but that’s only when you really see them in the eye and give them that first big hug.
“That’s where it really means something.
“I’ll be there for a cup of tea later. Enjoy the moment together and obviously we’re all looking forward to the big moment this Saturday.”