'No fear' - All Black Fainga'anuku on Ireland's physical threat

Patrick McKendry
Source: 1News

New All Black Leicester Fainga’anuku has spoken of his excitement at the potential of matching Ireland’s now renowned physicality in the three-Test series starting at Eden Park on July 2, saying "I'm not a man who fears much in life".

Leicester Fainga'anuku celebrates the recent Crusaders' final win over the Blues at Eden Park.

"That just excites me, really," the 22-year-old Crusaders powerhouse said on Tuesday in his first media engagement as a bona fide All Black.

"I get told a lot that I’m a bit of a pinball out there, throwing my body around.

"When you know you’re doing it for a good cause – taking one for the team and representing your team or community, and at this level, nation… [it makes you think] ‘let’s throw a bit more at whatever the defence line throws at you’. There’s no fear in that."

Fainga’anuku has always marched to the beat of his own drum, so it’s perhaps no surprise that he has arrived fresh from playing an integral role in the Crusaders’ dominant Super Rugby final victory over the Blues to the All Blacks environment with few apparent nerves.

He’s never been one to hold up the All Blacks as the summit of his personal ambition, preferring to reinforce his happiness with being able to perform for either Tasman or the Crusaders.

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It’s a maturity and self-assuredness that bodes well, and, in the short term at least, perhaps not so well for Ireland, who have had the better of the All Blacks recently, with two victories in their last three Tests.

And Fainga'anuku's first chance could come reasonably quickly. If, as expected, the All Blacks go with Jordie Barrett at fullback and Will Jordan on the right wing for the first test, they will probably want a power wing on the left. In the absence of the still injured Caleb Clarke, that is Fainga’anuku.

He is the form man and he provides a point of difference with his size, explosiveness and ability to offload. Such has been the momentum Fainga’anuku has provided the Crusaders when attacking close to an opposition’s line, he may be irresistible to the selectors because he’s one puzzle the now famous Irish defence may find difficult to solve.

"It’s a whole lot of excitement to be here, to see the quality players here," he said. "At the same time, we’ve all got one goal here and that’s to do the nation proud on the big stage.

“We’ve come from different franchises over the last few weeks… but we’re proud to come together and take on the world.

His Crusaders and Mako teammate David Havili, himself in close to the form his life, has no doubt Fainga’anuku will make the most of his opportunity.

Blues No.8 Hoskins Sotutu attempts to halt another Fainga'anuku charge for the line at Eden Park.

"He’s an awesome talent and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do and how much he can learn in this group," Havili said. "He’s only going to get better.

"He’s been huge – just his physical presence. He’s young, he’s hungry, he wants the ball and he wants to make a difference. If we can exploit that through [the All Blacks], and I’m sure we will, we’ll get the best out of him."

And Fainga’anuku said rounding off his Super season (he was the competition’s top try scorer with 10 alongside his outside back teammates Will Jordan and Sevu Reece) with a grand final win wouldn’t necessarily be much of a confidence boost.

"I wouldn’t base too much on that," he said. "I think the confidence I get is from finding enjoyment in what I do and taking every opportunity as it comes. To be here and get the opportunity to grow alongside the best players in the country, and the coaches – that’s what gives me confidence.

Read more: How clinical Crusaders scaled heights to leave Blues down and out

"One thing I pride myself on is I keep being me no matter what environment I’m in or the circumstances of life."

Asked what the All Blacks coaches had told Fainga’anuku how they wanted him to play, he said: "I don’t think there would be much they’d want to change about me… obviously there will be some things to work on… there’s always something in your game you need to grow. I’ll find that out myself during training weeks or games and take it on the chin and continue growing.

"I’m ready to put my hand up and do whatever it takes."

Making this an extra special time for Fainga’anuku’s parents is the fact big brother Tima, 25, a Moana Pasifika wing, could make his Tonga debut against Fiji in Suva at the same time.

"They’ve got one son representing the place we came from and one representing the nation that has given us the opportunity to do what we do," Fainga’anuku said. "For us as a family we’re truly grateful for what rugby has done but also the whole of New Zealand which has built us into proud Kiwis."