Willis Halaholo made his Wales debut in this year’s Six Nations, and a rash of injuries among Wayne Pivac’s squad could be the opening he needs to line up against birth nation New Zealand this month
Representing Wales at Test level may have been the furthest thing from Willis Halaholo’s mind after moving to Cardiff in 2016, never mind doing so against his native New Zealand.
Instead, former Hurricanes centre Halaholo might have held onto the hope that he would one day be an All Black himself, but his switch north of the equator has led to a string of surprise feats.
The ex-Tonga under-20 international has been a reliable performer for Cardiff since joining in 2016 and he was rewarded with his first Wales cap in February, going on to win the Six Nations in his maiden year with the team.
The Principality Stadium hosts will find their mettle tested on October 30, however, when Rugby Championship winners and world No. 1-ranked New Zealand come to the capital.
Wales coach Wayne Pivac—another Kiwi native—is already working without a selection of his top stars given the fixture falls just outside the November Test window, meaning any players based in England are ineligible.
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A spike of injuries in the camp has also improved Auckland-born Halaholo’s chances of starting in a match that holds special significance for him and his family: “It would be huge.
“I know a lot of the boys there and just to stand in front of the haka and play against them will be awesome for us.
“In the Six Nations and in the summer, you only get a few people watching from New Zealand but now we’re going to be playing the All Blacks so everyone will be watching.
“It’s huge for me and my family, with my parents back in New Zealand.
“Hopefully, if I get the chance and I put in a bit of work in camp — we’ll see how it goes.”
Do you think Wales will get the better of New Zealand in Cardiff on October 30? Let us know in the comments section.
A capacity crowd is expected at the Principality Stadium, where Halaholo hopes to add to his seven caps as a Wales international, having become the 1,165th player to don the instantly recognisable red.
Saracens centre Nick Tompkins is unavailable to face New Zealand due to the international window, while Ospreys star George North is absent as he recovers from a serious knee injury.
Halaholo—who goes by ‘Willis’ but was born ‘Sean Alfred Uilisi’—qualified for Wales duty in 2019 by virtue of the three-year residency rule.
Fast forward to today and he looks to be in with a solid chance of starting at centre at the end of this month, with Scarlets star Jonathan Davies a probable midfield partner.
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New Zealand narrowly lost 31-29 to South Africa in their last outing of the Rugby Championship, although their five previous wins were still enough to see them win the competition by a wide margin.
Ian Foster’s side travel are currently in America and will look to get back to winning ways when they face the United States in Washington on October 23, one week before they’ll take on Pivac’s side.
Wales will host the All Blacks in the first portion of an incredibly tough autumn line-up, with South Africa, Fiji and Australia also each set to visit Cardiff before the end of November.