All Black Nepo Laulala upbeat ahead of first season with Blues

In 2016, one year after making his All Blacks debut, Nepo Laulala shifted north from the Crusaders to the Chiefs.

The move didn’t go to plan, however, with Laulala suffering a horrific knee injury that kept him off the park for the entire season.

Heading into his first season with the Blues, Laulala will be hopeful that no such fate befalls him ahead of Saturday’s clash with the Hurricanes in Wellington.

“Unfortunately, I’ve had quite a few season-ending injuries, and I wasn’t able to pick up the games I probably should have,” Laulala said in the build-up to the opening weekend of Super Rugby Aotearoa.

“It’s been really tough. There were doubts. With my knee, the doctor said I would never play again. That annoyed me and made me want to prove him wrong. I wanted to use that as my inspiration and come back from it, and hopefully, also, there might help someone out there who has the same thing and sees that you can come back from it.”

In his five seasons contracted to the Chiefs, Laulala played in just 41 matches. He missed 39.

While some of that was no doubt to the strong depth the Chiefs possessed in the front row, many of his absences were due to unfortunate and untimely injuries.

Laulala wasn’t the only Chiefs prop struck down either. Fellow All Blacks Angus Ta’avao and Atu Moli have spent considerable time on the sidelines while Mitch Graham was eventually forced to retire after suffering a bad leg injury at the 2017 Brisbane Tens competition. Aidan Ross has also had his struggles.

Naturally, Laulala will be hoping that his run of poor luck is behind him – and the former Wesley College student will have to be on his best form, given the strength at the Blues’ disposal.

Laulala will be competing with Ofa Tuungafasi for minutes on the tighthead side of the scrum, while the pairs’ All Blacks teammates, Karl Tu’inukuafe and Alex Hodgman will battle it out for the starting loosehead berth.

As it so happens, former Bristol Bears prop James Lay will wear the No 1 jersey in Saturday’s match-up while Laulala gets the first chance to impress at No 3. Tu’inukuafe and Tuungafasi, meanwhile, will cover from the bench.

“It’s awesome, there’s good healthy competition and it will help us improve each other and there’s longevity as well because we can share the minutes and share the load in the games,” Laulala said.

“We’ve got a good thing going here, we’ve got a good pack. I just want to enjoy my season as well and have as much fun as we can. As long as we keep our culture going we should be good,” he said.

Super Rugby Aotearoa will be streamed live and on demand for RugbyPass subscribers across the UK and in parts of Europe and Asia. The competition kicks off on Friday with the Highlanders hosting the Crusaders before the Blues take on the Hurricanes at Sky Stadium in Wellington.