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Nothing but praise for 'Ice'

allblacks.com

Sportal.co.nz     16 Aug 2006     allblacks.com

The young Aucklander has been named to start at centre with Mils Muliaina moving back to his preferred position of fullback.

Speaking at a press conference in Auckland, All Blacks head coach Graham Henry and backs coach Wayne Smith had nothing but praise for the utility back.

"He [Toeava] played at centre in Argentina and he played well over there," said Henry.

"He looks very comfortable in the group. He's developing all the time and it's a chance to give him an opportunity."

When asked why Toeava had been named to start in such a crucial Test, Smith said the selectors wanted to let the young prodigy show his skills on the biggest stage.

"We just feel that Ice has had a couple of cameos. We believe he is going to be a big player and he needs a big game, we think, to develop," he said.

"In the heat of a really big occasion, he's got the goods."

The retirement of former All Blacks skipper Tana Umaga, coupled with Conrad Smith's horrendous leg break earlier in the year, had selectors struggling to find someone to make the grade in the crucial centre position.

However, both Henry and Smith have hinted that Toeava may be the player of the future in the number 13 jersey.

"We do a lot of homework. We think we have seen something pretty special in him. He's had a period with us now, quite a significant period," said Smith.

"He feels comfortable within the group and our gut feeling is that he is ready for it."

Henry also added that the utility back, whom he picked for last year's tour to the United Kingdom from relative obscurity, is likley to leave his mark on international rugby.

"We think he has got huge potential and this is a chance to let him loose," said Henry.

"I think he has got the qualities to be a high-quality Test match player.

"He could be world class, although we don't want to put that sort of pressure on him."

As for marking Australian centre Stirling Mortlock on Saturday night, who can already brag to being world class in the midfield department, Smith said Toeva would relish the opportunity.

"I think Stirling is playing as well as he has ever played," he said.

"He [Toeava] will cherish the opportunity, I think, to go up against the best.

"I think we will see the best come out of him."