If the praise being heaped on Isaia Toeava is to believed he might just be rugby’s next global superstar.
The 20 year-old will line up at outside centre when the All Blacks face Australia at Eden Park on Saturday in a match that, if won, could see them retain the Vodacom Tri Nations trophy.
Not since the emergence of Dan Carter have the All Blacks management waxed quite so lyrical about a young player.
At a press conference in Auckland, head coach Graham Henry and coach Wayne Smith spoke in glowing terms of the young Aucklander.
“I think he has got the qualities to be a high-quality Test match player,” Henry said. “He could be world class, although we don’t want to put that sort of pressure on him.”
Toeava has been earmarked as a possible replacement for the retired Tana Umaga, and with Conrad Smith still gaining match fitness with the Wellington Lions in the New Zealand Cup, he now has an opportunity to impress in a crucial Test match against formidable opposition.
“He feels comfortable within the group and our gut feeling is that he is ready for it,” Smith said.
His selection in the position has come after months of meticulous planning. Henry included him in last year’s end-of-season tour to the United Kingdom and played him in the position against Argentina. At the request of Hendry he has played at No 12 and No 13 in recent weeks for Auckland .
“We do a lot of homework,” Smith noted. ” We think we have seen something pretty special in him. He’s had a period with us now, quite a significant period.”
When probed about the rational behind selecting a relative greenhorn to square up to the experienced Sterling Mortlock, Smith spoke assuredly of his merits.
“I think Stirling is playing as well as he has ever played but he [Toeava] will cherish the opportunity to go up against the best.
“In the heat of a really big occasion, he’s got the goods.”
All Blacks: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Isaia Toeava, 12 Aaron Mauger, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Byron Kelleher; 8 Rodney Soâ€™oialo, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerry Collins, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Chris Jack, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock. Subs: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Greg Somerville, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Chris Masoe, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Luke McAlister, 22 Leon MacDonald.