Barnstorming Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa has a point to prove when he plays in Saturday’s Super Rugby match against the Blues at Eden Park in Auckland.
Fekitoa, 21, was part of the Blues squad last year but did not get on the field at all in what became a frustrating experience.
“It came to the stage where I became very disheartened,” he said.
“It wasn’t a waste. I learnt from some good coaches. I would like to prove a point but I don’t want to get away from our game plan.”
Fekitoa has been a revelation for the Highlanders with his powerful running and crunching defence, and will start his fifth consecutive game against the midfield pairing of Ma’a Nonu and Jackson Willison.
“It’s very important for us. We’re testing ourselves against some of the best. We need to win to show the win against them in Dunedin was not a one-off.
“I’m looking forward to running at Ma’a as I’ve always looked up to him. It’s going to be amazing.”
Tongan-born Fekitoa credits Auckland coach Wayne Pivac as his biggest influence and Nonu, Rene Ranger and Conrad Smith as the midfielders he most admires.
The Highlanders beat the Blues 29-21 in Dunedin on February 22, but came close to squandering a 24-0 halftime lead.
They had to hang on to survive a late scare against the Hurricanes last week, edging out 35-31 winners, leaving coach Jamie Joseph demanding an 80-minute performance this week.
“We have to squeeze every drop out of every player,” he said.
“We did that last week for 62 minutes and then put ourselves under pressure. Players like Beauden Barrett can turn nothing into seven points.
“The Hurricanes and Blues are the most dangerous teams to play in that respect. We have to be more ruthless in closing out games and in not letting the opposition back into matches.”
Highlanders: Ben Smith, Richard Buckman, Malakai Fekitoa, Phil Burleigh, Patrick Osborne, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Nasi Manu, Shane Christie, Elliot Dixon, Jarrad Hoeata, Brad Thorn, Chris King, Ged Robinson, Kane Hames. Reserves: Liam Coltman, Craig Millar, Ma’afu Fia, Joe Wheeler, TJ Ioane, Fumiaki Tanaka, Hayden Parker.