That’s according to former highlanders lock Joe Wheeler, who sang Havili’s praises in the wake of the Crusaders’ win at Eden Park over the weekend.
Having earned an All Blacks recall in 2021 following a four-year hiatus from international rugby, Havili is firmly in the hunt to start for the All Blacks this season after having played in 12 of New Zealand’s 15 tests last year.
However, as the All Blacks campaign wore on, his form started to wane and the fullback-turned-midfielder was reduced to a bench role for the final two tests as Anton Lienert-Brown and Quinn Tupaea started at second-five against Ireland and France.
That hasn’t stopped Wheeler from backing Havili to don the No 12 jersey for the All Blacks in their upcoming test series against Ireland.
speaking on the Aotearoa Rugby PodWheeler said Havili did enough in the Crusaders’ run to the inaugural Super Rugby Pacific title to prove the doubters wrong and secure his place in the starting All Blacks side.
“Yeah I think so,” Wheeler said when asked if Havili has played his way into the All Blacks midfield following his performance in his side’s 21-7 Super Rugby Pacific final win.
“He’s the glue of that Crusaders backline and he has been for a long, long time. He’s a fantastic footballer, tough as nails and I think he silenced a lot of critics.
“Obviously in those conditions, we are probably going to see it in the three test series. Only the Dunedin test is going to be perfect conditions in terms of playing in a dry stadium.
“The rest of the time we are potentially going to have greasy, potentially wet conditions. We saw how he handled that, defensively was outstanding but also his decision-making around the field.
“His kicking ability and his skill execution under pressure is just phenomenal. The guy has got a magnificent skillset.”
What impressed Wheeler the most was the level of execution by the Crusaders backs when handling the ball on what was a wet night in Auckland.
“Apart from the scrum mistake that the Crusaders made, I couldn’t recall another handling error throughout that game. There were very few of them, and those conditions were atrocious,” Wheeler, who played for the Crusaders from 2010 to 2012, said
“They were really, really challenging. I’ve led a lot of that. His game management of him alongside Richie Mo’unga it was just fantastic. For me, they’ve got to give him the nod in the 12 jersey for this test series.”
Former All Blacks hooker James Parsons took note of Havili’s suffocating defense as he worked in tandem with midfield partner Jack Goodhue to keep their Blues counterparts Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Rieko Ioane locked down for most of the night.
The Blues were subsequently reduced to making an early substitution, replacing Tuivasa-Sheck with Bryce Heem less than five minutes into the second half as they went in search of some spark.
“His line speed and the pressure he put the Blues attack under, they weren’t getting front foot ball. They just didn’t have time on it,” Parsons, a former Blues captain and centurion, told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod of Havili’s defensive work.
“There was one time where Rieko got the outside and Davey just managed to grab his jersey and get him to deck. It’s that sort of desperation that just set him above on the night.
“Yes, he’s come under some heat over the season, but big players step up in big games. I don’t think you could do any worse than sending David Havili in that 12 jersey.”
Speaking to media yesterday as the All Blacks entered camp to prepare for next weekend’s first test against Ireland, Havili said he learned a lot from the 2021 test campaign and explained that as the season wore on he was “a wee bit tired”.
“It’s just that international rugby is so physical and you’ve got to be able to get your body back to where it needs to be each week,” he said.
“That was a big lesson for me. I was a wee bit tired going into a lot of those games over the backend.
“I’ve focused really hard around my recovery this year and getting my body right, and where it needs to be to compete at the top level.”
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