He’s faster than All Black teammates Ben Smith and Waisake Naholo. Smith, with a twinkle in his eye, said: ‘He’s the strongest white man I’ve ever seen in the gym.’ He has a receding hairline, a dog named Summer and was playing club rugby a year ago. Introducing Matt Faddes, the accidental All Black?
When Naholo injured his leg early in the Highlanders’ season, Faddes was chosen to replace him. When you first set eyes on him – socks half down, receding hairline – you might think he looks better suited for a position on a Scarfies’ (Otago rugby fan) sofa with a Speights (Southern beer) in his hand than out on the wing or midfield in an All Blacks-laden backline.
His early involvement in his first game did nothing to change this perception – a botched catch with the line open, followed by a mess of a clearance. However, Faddes lived up to his mantra of ‘look up, get up and never give up’ and went on to score a brace of tries in the same match.
Since that day, Faddes’ season has been nothing short of remarkable. Upon Naholo’s return, he was moved to midfield and immediately scored two scorching tries against table-topping Crusaders, one from fifty metres when he stepped Matt Todd and outpaced the defence to the line.
After scoring a hat trick of tries last weekend against the Kings, Faddes is now the joint top try scorer in the Super 18, sharing the lofty position with the likes of Israel Folau and ahead of 2016 sensation Damian McKenzie. Faddes, in the space of four games, has gone from everywhere man sub to a genuine contender for the All Blacks’ Rugby Championship squad.
Steve Hansen will be aware of the South Otago native now too. Faddes has dynamic acceleration, surprising strength and an eye for opportunity, which may be the x-factor Hansen is seeking to set alight his midfield.
Another factor in Faddes’ favour is his utility value – his hat trick against the Kings was scored from fullback and he can play wing equally adeptly. The player himself credits both his lookalike, Highlanders coach Tony Brown, and Ben ‘the accountant’ Smith for the growth in his game especially in terms of positional awareness.
If he produces any more eye-catching performances in the remainder of the Super 18 season, Faddes may be fast-tracked from Highlander blue into Black.
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena