Another week, another Hurricanes masterclass. The most lethal backline in world rugby rolled on, putting on 42 unanswered points in the second half to annihilate the Australian conference leaders the Brumbies 56-21.
While Beauden Barrett’s red hot form again dominated the headlines, the drumbeat is growing louder to include the two men outside him in the All Black squad: Ngani Laumape and Vince Aso.
Aso scored a scintillating hat-trick on Saturday to vault past Laumape to hold the top position in Super 18 try-scoring, with ten in just eight games. Laumape, the previous leader, is one behind on nine. As a pair, they have scored as many tries as the entire Bulls and Cheetahs teams, and more than the Sharks, Force and Rebels. There is very little between the two pocket rockets from Wellington.
Aso or ‘Slayer’ is 22 years old, 1.81m tall and weighs 101kg, while 24-year-old Laumape or ‘Nugget’ checks in at 1.77m and 103kg. Both players have brutal power, solid defence and explosive pace.
Obviously benefiting from playing outside the world-class TJ Perenara and Barrett, the pair also lead the Super 18 in clean breaks, with Laumape on 20 and Aso 17.
Last week New Zealand rugby journalists mused over Steve Hansen’s midfield options for the Lions with six players in the mix: Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty, Anton Lienert Brown, George Moala, Malakai Fekitoa and Rieko Ioane. It says something about the seemingly endless depth in the New Zealand rugby talent pool that Ngani and Aso’s names were not part of this conversation.
However, they both have attributes which should propel them into the selectors’ thoughts. Both Aso and Laumape are versatile players, with Aso playing on the right wing in the early rounds, before moving into midfield to cover Matt Proctor’s injury. Ngani can also play wing, as he did for the New Zealand Warriors team, and has scored many of his tries out wide on the flanks this season.
The Lions series will no doubt be brutally combative and so having players with utility value to cover injuries will be paramount. Aso and Laumape are also the same speed or faster than all the aforementioned midfielders bar Rieko Ioane. Through their form this year, they have proven to be more accurate than Moala, Ioane, Fekitoa and Williams (although Williams has had limited chances), more powerful than Lienert Brown and Crotty and better finishers than all the other candidates. They have excellent positional sense, offloading skills and run incisive lines into gaps.
Another argument in their favour is that they have struck up outstanding combinations with Barrett, a certainty to start at fly-half for the All Blacks. Barrett himself has become a fan of the pair’s play, in particular Laumape.
“I’ve just been really impressed with Ngani Laumape outside me this year. He’s come a long way in terms of his rugby knowledge,” Barrett said in an interview with Newstalk ZB (via the NZ Herald).
Watch the highlights of both players this year and it becomes clear that they are far from one-dimensional and are producing international class form.
So, why not roll the dice?
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena