Fekitoa ready to shine at 12

Date published: September 26 2014

All Blacks centre Malakai Fekitoa is keen to impress when he wears the number 12 jersey against Argentina in La Plata on Saturday.

Fekitoa has been a sensation at outside centre for the Highlanders during Super Rugby but after four appearances at Test level gets his first start at inside centre for the All Blacks.

He replaces veteran midfielder Ma’a Nonu, who broke his arm against the Springboks in Wellington a fortnight ago, and Fekitoa – who is seen as the back-up to Conrad Smith at outside centre – is out to prove that he can cover both midfield positions.

“It’s a massive challenge for me in my first time at 12,” he told Fairfax Media.

“I’m lucky I’ve got a few more days to practice and hopefully be ready.

“They are both very different on defence and attack. It will be good for me at this early stage to learn.

“I’m trying to be a centre and now I’m next to Conrad I’ll probably just watch how he plays and listen to what he says to me.”

Moving from outside to inside centre is a gamble but All Blacks coach Steve Hansen believes Fekitoa boasts unique attributes and backs the 22-year-old to succeed.

“At the moment he’s got the skill set and the ability to improve that will allow him to play there really well in the future,” said Hansen.

“He’s strong; he’s a good carrier of the ball. He’s a young Ma’a Nonu really.

“We saw Ma’a develop over a number of seasons into a world-class player and I think we will see that with Malakai as well.

“Long-term he could be one of those rare beasts that’s able to play both positions.”