Powerhouse No.12 Johnny Fa’auli built a reputation as a fearsome midfield defender during last year’s campaign for Counties Manukau Steelers, and he’s only enhanced it during the 2016 Mitre 10 Cup season after a shift to Taranaki.
Only turning 21 last week, Fa’auli has been terrorising opposition backs and forwards. He combines a big body with faultless technique and tremendous line-speed, and reeled off a string of bone-rattling hits in Taranaki’s 54-31 defeat of Wellington on Sunday.
The New Zealand Under-20s rep first came to wider attention in 2015 when he pulverised Hawke’s Bay inside-centre Andrew Horrell.
When veteran combination Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu retired from All Blacks duty after the 2015 World Cup, the midfield shaped as a potential weakness for New Zealand, but Ryan Crotty, Anton Lienert-Brown and Malakai Fekitoa are grappling for the two centre spots and the ABs’ backline has barely missed a beat.
There’s also the likes of current squad members George Moala and Seta Tamanivalu busting for an opportunity – and the emergence of tyros such as Fa’auli indicates there will be no let-up for the No.12s and 13s on the Super Rugby and international scene for some time to come.