Amidst the doom and gloom that has enveloped much of the Blues season this year, one bright light has been the dominance of the scrum, and the emergence of Charlie Faumuina as a genuine All Black contender.
The 25-year-old tighthead prop has missed just one game this season through injury (against the Chiefs) and has performed superbly in a team that has failed to live up to pre-season expectations.
Earlier this week Faumuina committed to the Blues for another two seasons and has high hopes of turning around the franchise’s fortunes.
“I’ve been in the Blues for four years now but this is my first year as a starting prop so why not lock in another two years to see what I can get out of it,” he said. “The year hasn’t quite gone to plan. If you’d told me during the pre-season how the season would have unfolded and that we would be bottom of the table I wouldn’t have believed you so obviously next year I want to get this team back to where they should be.”
Another motivating factor for Faumuina to remain with the Blues in New Zealand is the lure of the All Black jersey.
He was the man who kept Owen Franks on the bench for the New Zealand Colts team and is a hot prospect to be named in Steve Hansen’s enlarged All Black squad on June 3.
“That was another big reason I wanted to stay with the Blues, to give the ABs a good crack. It’s obviously a dream to play in that black jersey and I thought one year wasn’t quite enough so two gives me a real chance to achieve my goal.”
Faumuina caught up with All Black scrum guru Mike Cron while the All Black coaches were in camp earlier in the week to look at some of the technical aspects of his scrummaging and was given plenty of positive feedback on how he’s progressing.
Blues head coach Pat Lam has no doubt about where Faumuina’s future lies.
“For me it’s more a case of when, not if he’ll become an All Black,” Lam said. “But he’s got to continue to do what he’s doing, continue to grow and I believe he has the potential to be one of the great All Black props.”
Lam credits much of Faumuina’s success to the endless hours forwards coach Mike Casey has dedicated to helping the prop improve his game as well as the tutelage of All Black front rowers Tony Woodcock and John Afoa.
“I remember back in 2009 when I selected Charlie and Tevita in the Blues squad for the first time that there was no better education they could get than working behind Tony Woodcock and John Afoa.
“A lot of credit also has to go to Woody and Johnny because they’ve taken these guys under their wings, taught them what a professional is like and taught them a lot about scrummaging and prop play.”
With John Afoa having departed for Ulster at the end of last year, Faumuina has thrived on more game time and flourished after sorting out the small details off the field like nutrition and time management.
A hugely positive case for Faumuina’s inclusion in the All Black squad is his ability to play on both sides of the scrum, but it is his incredible footwork and ball skills which really set him apart from the rest of the props in New Zealand.
With a 1.86m, 125kg frame, he’s hardly built for agility but Lam said he had the footwork of a dancer.
“Scrummaging aside, it’s what he does with the ball that is so impressive. He’s a big man but his footwork is unbelievable, he’s got footwork like a ballerina and I think it’s a massive asset. The other thing I’ve found with Chaz is that you can’t break him, you can put him through a lot of physical things and mentally he’s pretty tough.”
That mental resilience has been on show throughout the season as he has never stopped working despite the disappointing results. He’ll be hoping he can finally reap the rewards of his hard toil tomorrow tonight with a much needed win over the Lions.