Toeava stakes All Black claim

After capping off a remarkable season which saw him become the form outside centre of the tournament, former under 19 IRB Player of the Year Isaia Toeava is set to pose a devastating threat to any opposers to the All Blacks.

As New Zealand search for a new attacking force in the 13 jersey, Toeava may just seize the opportunity in New Zealand’s year of destiny 2007.

Toeava was originally selected by national coach Graham Henry in 2005 as a raw teenager, only to see him outdone in 2006 and left out in the cold by the end of year.

But a scintillating season for the Blues has enthralled the New Zealand coaching staff.

“He’s played outstandingly for the Blues,” said Henry at his squad announcement.

“In the semifinal he made the two linebreaks that led to tries.

“I think he’s proven he can handle the demands of big occasion rugby. The way he’s done that this year is a great credit to him, because he was obviously under the microscope from a few people. He was under the microscope from us, and got a lot of attention.

“He’s a young guy who first went into the All Blacks and probably was disapointed with the way he played. He showed a lot of mental toughness to come through and play so well.

“He’s played consistently well right through, and he’s also played 12 as well as 13, and we know he can play other positions as well. That’s an even bigger plus.”

Toeava capped his season off with a superb display against the Sharks in the semi-final – a match which saw his side fade badly after he left the field injured.

“We were all pretty impressed the way he played in that particular game. That was a sellout crowd at Durban which is an intimidating place, and that obviously helped cement the selection.

“He’s probably been the most potent back in New Zealand to be able to break the line consistently of all our players this year. His selection was cemented before that semifinal. But it was great to see him play so well.”

Henry’s backline assistant Wayne Smith has no doubt about the shy youngster’s ability. Toeava nicknamed ‘Ice’ after his first name, the prophetically inspired Isaia, doesn’t enjoy the nickname.

“You could see an edge about him,” said Smith. “There’s a determination and a confidence at that level that you didn’t see last year.

“We’ve always known he’s got ability, talent and skill, and he’s also got the head for it. It was probably an age and maturity thing. He was pretty young. We were hoping he would come to it quickly and he has.

“I think he’s shown a real drive and hunger to be there.”

With players like Mauger, McAlister and Carter set to be feeding him ball from his inside, expect a new All Blacks star to be born in 2007.

365 Digital

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