Every year one or two players in New Zealand rugby produce form so irresistible that they are fast-tracked into the All Blacks. In 2015, it was Nehe Milner-Scudder, and last year young prodigies Damian McKenzie and Rieko Ioane. This year that player may well be Hurricanes midfielder Ngani Laumape.
Laumape has been on fire for the talent-laden Hurricanes backline in 2017. His rampaging runs and boxers build have seen many commentators compare him to another famous tackle buster who wore the Canes no.12 with aplomb: Ma’a Nonu. Laumape is in only his second season of Super 18 rugby, having returned the 15 man code after a two-season stint with the New Zealand Warriors rugby league team.
Last year, the 24-year-old played a bits and pieces role for the Hurricanes, making 11 appearances and seven starts for the Hurricanes during their inaugural Championship winning run. This year, he has established himself in midfield and formed a lethal midfield combination with Matt Proctor, as they feed off the creative brilliance of halfback TJ Perenara and the two Barrett brothers, Beauden and Jordie.
Laumape is the leading tryscorer in the Super 18, with seven in six games, alongside teammate Vince Aso. He is a clear leader in clean breaks with an astounding 17, and second equal with Damian McKenzie and behind Samu Kerevi in defenders beaten. Laumape may not be as tall as All Black legend Nonu (1.71m vs 1.82m) and is slightly lighter (103kg vs 106kg) but shares his explosive speed, balance and of course the destructive strength. Teammates have labelled him the ‘minibus’ as the slightly smaller but no less destructive version of ‘the Bus’ Julian Savea.
His next challenge will be to add the extra skill dimensions to his game like kicking, offloading and creative passing which made Ma’a Nonu into the complete world class midfielder.
When Laumape scores, his exuberant celebrations show that he embraces the spotlight, and he shows all the talent to move onto bigger and brighter international stages. If the Hurricanes midfielder’s hot form continues, All Black coach Steve Hansen may well be tempted to unleash an unknown flying object on the Lions in June.
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena
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