It’s been a whirlwind week for towering New Zealand lock Dominic Bird. Last Saturday he was helping Canterbury to their sixth straight NPC title and now the 22-year-old is set to make his All Blacks debut against Japan in Tokyo on Saturday.
Bird and wing Frank Halai were the two new faces named in an inexperienced starting lineup by All Blacks coach Steve Hansen on Thursday, while two other uncapped players – loose forward Luke Whitelock and prop Jeff Toomaga-Allen – are on the reserves bench.
“It’s a bit nerve-wracking, the first All Blacks game and getting that All Black jersey is exciting,” said Bird, who is the tallest-ever All Blacks lock at 2.06m.
“It’s really an honour to come in and get a game straight away. I’m chuffed.”
Bird’s rugby has been curtailed to just two games for Canterbury since tearing his pectoral muscle while playing for the Crusaders earlier this year.
Hansen didn’t feel he is rushing Bird in to partner four-cap All Blacks locking partner Jeremy Thrush.
“We would have picked him in June. Whilst it seems like he’s had a quick rush into the team he’s had to wait and work hard,” Hansen said.
“He had a bit of adversity in June and he’s coped with that mentally really well and he’s come back which is pleasing.
“We’re confident he will do a job for us and only get better and better and put some real pressure on the other guys who are performing really well at the moment.”
Aside from his obvious height, Hansen felt Bird would also bring the physicality necessary from a tight forward.
“He’s an athlete. So not only is he tall, he’s co-ordinated,” said Hansen of the 112kg lock.
“He’s got physical attributes we like in the core role so he can be physical. He doesn’t mind hitting rucks.”
Halai is the latest Test graduate to come from the New Zealand sevens programme and Hansen felt this year the shy Counties winger had come out of his shell.
“He’s grown his game a heck of a lot. He’s improved immensely aerially,” Hansen said.
“He’s a shy guy and he’s played shy probably in the past. But he’s managing now to play the way he would like to and the way we would like him to. He’s confident on the park and is displaying the skills he’s got.”
All Blacks: Beauden Barrett, Charles Piutau, Ben Smith, Francis Saili, Frank Halai, Daniel Carter, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Richie McCaw (capt), Sam Cane, Steven Luatua, Dominic Bird, Jeremy Thrush, Ben Franks, Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Andrew Hore, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Charlie Faumuina, Brodie Retallick, Luke Whitelock, Aaron Smith, Tom Taylor, Ryan Crotty.