22 February, 2019, 11:29 am
CRUSADERS’ Manasa Mataele’s two dazzling tries over the weekend against Auckland Blues rates him one of the best among Fijian wingers and for the All Black jersey and 2019 Rugby World Cup in September.
It would not be surprising then if he has already been scooped up as he has been on the radar of the All Blacks coaches as one of the top prospects for the number 14 jersey.
Because if they do not snare him Flying Fijians coach John McKee would gladly welcome him as he also seeks replacements for Nemani Nadolo and Timoci Nagusa, two Fijian wingers who have opted out of international rugby this year.
Wingers are speciallist try scorers and hone their skills to do what is expected of them when that window of opportunity provides itself.
Opportunities may be plenty but in top competition there could only be few and they have to be on full alert to fully exploit them when they come.
Against the Blues and opposing New Zealand’s current in-form winger Reiko Iowane, Mataele’s tries were classics and Iowane not only failed to score a try he was well wrapped up by Mataele before he made one of those trademark dashes.
The first try was a cross kick, which a Blues player tried to intercept, but eventually lost.
Instead of going into a physical battle for the ball, Mataele must have sensed what would happen and adjusted his pace so that he would not over run the ball however quick to pounce before it rolled out to the dead ball line.
A slight misjudgment on his part and quick action of the Blues player would have resulted in a try on the opposite end.
But as it happened like a hunter, he took control of the situation and he reaped the fruit of his patience, good vision and awareness.
The second try ranks among the classics by any Fijian wingers in Super Rugby over the years such as Joeli Vidiri, Luke Erenavula, Aisea Tuilevu, Iliesa Tanivula, Joe Rokocoko, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Rupeni Caucau, Nadolo, Seta Tamanivalu and Waisake Naholo to name a few.
Running at full speed he picks his time perfectly to plant his boot in a momentary stop before rocketing off and away from the clutches of a tackler trying to get his balance back after being flat-footed.
Fiji 7s player Waisea Nacuqu possesses that top-class goosestep doing it at full speed without losing momentum.
Fijian wingers with different running styles have been featuring for New Zealand over the years since Bernie Fraser in the 70s made that fine All Black winger partnership with his Wellington teammate Stu Wilson.
They later wrote a book for their achievements called Ebony and Ivory.
Fraser played for New Zealand from 1979 to 1984, playing a couple of game in Fiji, had a powerful sidestep that took him through to the tryline and past defenders in his 23 Tests while right winger Stu Wilson was a graceful runner and he weaved past the defence when he swerved.
There was a Nadi and Fiji winger Taniela Nayate, who ran beautifully like Wilson. Nayate also played for Fiji in Hong Kong and left to play in Australia giving the mercurial Senivalati Laulau the opportunity to play for Nadi and then Fiji in the early eighties.
They mastered the swerve and execute it with a fluidity that deceived opponents.
Mataele has been in the shadow of past Crusaders winger Nadolo and his Yasawa kin Tamanivalu and is a full package in attack and in defence.
Meanwhile, the Crusaders back line revealed a budding superstar in outside centre Braydon Ennor who ran rings around Blues opposite Ma’a Nonu.
Nonu back after four years playing in France was a steady guide for Auckland in their campaign to return to winning rugby.
They will definitely shock a couple of top teams in the competition but the master stroke by Crusaders coach Scott Robertson
to pit Braydon Ennor, a regular winger against the slowing Nonu will be noted by other Super Rugby coaches later in the competition when they face Blues.
That Nonu is also being eyed for the New Zealand Olympic Games in 2020 with Victor Vito should be food for thought for Gareth Baber.
He has a lot of experience, bulk to draw defenders and who needs speed when you have Ferraris such as Regan Ware, Curt Baker, Joe Ravouvou and Tim Mickelson on your side.
We look forward to see more from the former Marist Brothers High School student in Super Rugby this week when they host the Hurricanes at 6.35pm at Rugby League Park on Saturday.
The Blues travel to South Africa to meet the Sharks on Sunday but on Friday Highlanders meet the Reds 6.35 in Otago.
Watch for more mouth-watering, sizzling rugby feast from Fijian players and wingers who will be in action.