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Dalton Papali'i on the Blues rise to the top of the ladder

Dalton Papali'i on the Blues rise to the top of the ladder

All BlacksMay 15, 2024

Blues flanker Dalton Papali'i said being at the top of the DHL Super Rugby Pacific points table had lessons for him, and he would use those as the team prepares for the remainder of the season.

"I've been here before, and we've choked in the finals. Everyone's going to be at us. 

"But there's so many teams in this competition that I think everyone's being hunted and we've got to try to win each week by focusing on the day, and that means training all the way Monday, Tuesday, all the way through to game day."

The Highlanders, who they meet at Eden Park on Saturday, had a helpful weapon at the breakdown in wing Timoci Tavatavanawai.

"It's a credit to his game. He's changing what a winger is being over the ball. But I've seen it where our wings can get over the ball here. It's changing a bit; they can do many things that wingers never used to do like defending, but now they love defending."

The news that All Blacks captain Sam Cane will retire at the end of the season turned the attention towards those competing to replace him.

All the Super Rugby teams had loose forwards who were playing well, some of them younger players.

"It brings the best out of everyone. Peter Lakai and Du'Plessis Kirifi are coming through and really pushing the boundaries so that makes everyone better."

As a contender for the openside flanker's role against England, Papali'i said he wasn't thinking about that because he was focused on the Blues.

"But getting to play with Sam, and seeing the character and man he is, it's a privilege to be in a team him."

Papali'i said he had never met anyone with Cane's resilience, especially at last year's Rugby World Cup, after all the flak he had received in the media.

"I've always had good competition with him, and he's brought the best out of me.

"We're good mates as well and it's going to be a sad day seeing all the so-called legends of the game go."

Cane could throw his body into everything, and that impressed Papali'i.

"The main thing for seven [flanker] is not taking a backward step, just throwing yourself into contact and getting into collisions...He epitomised what a seven was and what it was to be an All Blacks captain and seven."

Cane was a player he looked up to when coming through the grades, competing with him in Super Rugby and then being a teammate in the All Blacks.

No game more personified Cane's approach than last year's Rugby World Cup quarterfinal against Ireland.

"We knew that game was important, and the way we won it probably goes down as one of my favourite games of all time. And especially for Sam after his journey over the last couple of years and then having a performance like that just goes to show what he man he is. Massive respect to him."

Papali'i said that Ardie Savea stood up as captain when Cane was injured last year and was a likely indicator of who might get the job.

Papali'i said the 26,000 crowd at Eden Park for the Hurricanes game on Saturday was outstanding.

"People don't understand how much of an impact it has on the players. The whole atmosphere was lit up. That's the first time we played Super Rugby where we've had that, apart from the Covid 'Canes game, where we had a sellout. 

"It just adds that extra couple of percent in the players to play a bit harder."

Discussing the game afterwards with Hurricanes halfback and All Blacks teammate TJ Perenara, they agreed the game had been of Test match intensity, especially in the collisions and physicality.

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