Roger Tuivasa-Sheck: Code-hopper admits All Blacks call-up is a bonus with World Cup still the target

Dylan Coetzee

Rugby league convert Roger Tuivasa-Sheck admits his call-up to the All Blacks this year was a bonus as his sights remain set on booking a spot to go to the World Cup in France next year.

Tuivasa-Sheck made the switch to rugby union earlier this year with the Blues in Super Rugby Pacific, and whilst it was clear he was still learning, he improved with every minute on the pitch.

The centre’s talent is obvious, he is strong, has a great turn of pace and wicked side-step, all of which contribute to making him such an intriguing prospect for All Blacks head coach Ian Foster.

The 29-year-old has had limited time at Test level due to the poor form of the All Blacks not allowing Foster to rotate and trial new combinations.

Chance has arrived

However, Tuivasa-Sheck starts this weekend against Japan, where it is a massive opportunity to show that he can add value to New Zealand, who have centre options aplenty with the return from injury of David Havili and Anton Lienert-Brown, amongst others.

“This is another massive chapter in my learnings for this year,” he told Stuff. “I’ve made the crossover from rugby league, and the ultimate dream is to be part of that World Cup squad next year. It was just a bonus to be called up this year, and I’m stoked to be getting a Test match start … I haven’t had many years in me at this level, and I’ve got to enjoy every moment and opportunity I can.”

Tuivasa-Sheck admits he learnt a great deal with Auckland and the Blues, but where he has learnt the most is the All Blacks squad.

“I’ve been having a lot of good conversations and have had a lot of good people around me, starting with Auckland NPC, coming in and getting to know the lingo, and then moving into the Blues and understanding my role as a 12, the players around me, how I pass the ball, how I kick and run my lines… all the detail,” he said.

“And then to come into this environment where it’s another level up and getting to rub shoulders with players who know what it’s like to play at this level, it’s massive for my learning, and what this whole year has been about. A lot of people have played a role in helping me get to where I’m starting in a Test match.”

Being away from family during the Covid pandemic was the nudge that pushed Tuivasa-Sheck to switch to union and made sense with the World Cup on the horizon, meaning he could have a goal to chase whilst being with family.

“Changing to rugby union was always in the back of my mind – something I thought would have been nice to do,” he added. “But it wasn’t till I got stuck in Australia because of Covid and had to leave my young family that I made the decision I was going to risk all or nothing and try my luck at rugby union.

“I’m just so happy to line up with a World Cup that’s there to be chased, I back myself to chase it and then return back home to be with my family.”

Excited for Japan Test

The 29-year-old is expecting an exciting clash against Japan, who he believes plays a similar style, and he knows he will have to be ready defensively to cover the space well enough.

“We know Japan love to play that free-flowing footy, and like to throw the ball around. It’s a similar style that we like to play – getting into space,” said Tuivasa-Sheck. “So as a midfield we have to be on our toes to make sure we’re covering that width and we’re pulling our forwards across to cover the width of the field.”

Tuivasa-Sheck knows where his strengths lie and understands he still has some growing to do defensively.

“My biggest strength is being able to beat a player one-on-one, take the ball forward and gain momentum. But I’m still learning my roles on the defensive side and being open to different things, and not fixed on a style that’s already in place, is a strength of mine.”

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