Explosive winger Waisake Naholo admits to feeling a touch starstruck as he prepares to make his All Blacks debut.
The Fiji-born flyer’s breakthrough season with new Super Rugby champions the Highlanders has been followed by his selection for New Zealand’s opening Rugby Championship Test against Argentina.
Naholo, 24, says he and his family in Fiji are excited at what he describes as a special opportunity for him in Christchurch on Friday night.
But he’s also still getting used to rubbing shoulders with some famous rugby names who will now be his teammates.
“You come here and you meet players you’ve only seen on TV, or players that you idolise, and you get to hang around them and learn off them,” he said.
“It’s still a bit scary walking around here and walking close to these guys.”
He is rooming with 85-Test centre Conrad Smith, who has been giving him guidance around the All Blacks environment.
Naholo has played for New Zealand under-20 and All Blacks Sevens sides, and he was a key member of Taranaki’s national provincial championship-winning campaign last year.
Largely unused during his spell with the Blues, the powerful and pacy Naholo was a revelation for the Highlanders this season, scoring 13 tries, including one in the final.
He had been due to head to France at the end of the year to join Clermont Auvergne on a two-year deal, but his form for the Highlanders produced second thoughts.
After deciding he wanted to pursue his All Blacks ambitions, he managed to secure a release from the French club.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said Naholo was a quality player who had taken time to transfer his ability from sevens to the 15-a-side game.
“But he’s found a home in the Highlanders where he has really taken off,” he said.
“He has had an outstanding season and he was a pretty easy pick in the end.”