Folau Fakatava has laid down the gauntlet to his Highlanders teammate Aaron Smith, saying he plans on competing hard and putting pressure on Smith for the All Blacks No.9 jersey.
Fakatava was one of six rookies named in Ian Foster's 36-man squad to face Ireland next month, following a superb Super Rugby season.
Named alongside 102-cap Smith, Fakatava was not shy in admitting he was gunning for the veteran's starting jersey.
"I always love competing with him," Fakatava said.
"I feel like I'm carving him up at training. I told him 'I'm coming for you' and he knows I'm putting a bit of pressure on him," he grinned.
The 22-year-old said he and Smith celebrated their All Black selections over the phone.
"We were just hyping each other up and he was saying he was super proud of me and looking forward to getting into camp and keep doing what we do."
Fakatava's selection for the black jersey is long overdue. After a bright start in the 2021 Super Rugby season that saw him the Highlanders switch between Fakatava and Smith as the Highlanders' starter, Fakatava tore his ACL and was forced to watch from the sidelines for the rest of the year.
He admitted it was difficult to cope with the disappointment having been on the cusp of national selection.
"I wanted to be in the All Blacks last year but that didn't happen. It was quite tough. I was almost giving up on that dream but my mum and dad, my partner, were always there telling me 'you got this.'"
The five other rookies in the All Blacks squad are Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Stephen Perofeta, Aidan Ross and Pita Gus Sowakula.