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All Black number 1126 to say his prayers as he continues his special time

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James Mortimer     05 Sep 2013     Getty Images

It caps off quite a remarkable 24 months for 2011 IRB Junior World Championship winner, who celebrated that success with a call up to the Blues, and now will line up alongside two different sets of players as he runs out on rugby's highest stage.



He will replace a player he has idolised for years, while playing alongside two greats who he has looked up to for his whole career.

Yet on the other side of the spectrum - Charlie Faumuina, Beauden Barrett and Steven Luatua – fellow winners of that 2011 success in Italy, will be familiar to Saili as part of a 17 player strong contingent of those who have made their Test debuts since Steve Hansen became All Blacks coach.

The humble centre said to allblacks.com that he still hadn’t come to grips with the colour of his jersey this weekend.

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” he said.

“It still feels like I’m going to play for North Harbour on Sunday!”

While clearly coming to terms with his promotion in the All Blacks starting XV, he said it was important for him to take it one step at a time.

“For me I’m just going to relax and be calm and take it as it comes,” he said.

“I can’t get too far ahead of myself. I’ve got to embrace the opportunity and get excited and go out there and show some enthusiasm.”

While Saili becomes the latest All Black, he will line up with the most experienced first five-eighth and centre in All Blacks history.

With Dan Carter lining up for his 96th Test, while Conrad Smith will play his 72nd, Saili will not be short on advice in an All Blacks team boasting 739 Test caps.

He did admit that with “two world class players either side of me, it is very exciting.”

“I played alongside them the warm up game, but I’m still buzzing that I’m getting to play alongside them (in a Test match).

“I’m going to go out there and do what I can, I know they are going to do their role, and they are trusting me to do mine.

“But when I look either side of me, there will be a big smile.”

Replacing Ma’a Nonu at second five-eighth is no small feat, yet was crucial to the All Blacks long term plans to develop depth in their centre stocks.

For Saili, he said that while he acknowledged the influence the dreadlocked midfielder had on his game, he was going to take the chance he had been given to wear the famous jersey.

“Ma’a is a big mentor of mine, I’ve learned a lot of him, as I base my game around him,” he said.

“I try and play similar and use some of Ma’a’s skillsets to add to it, and it is nice to play in his jersey as he has been an idol of mine for some time.

“It is nice that this day has come, and I’m going to take this jersey and take this opportunity with both hands. It is going to be great times."

With Luatau and Faumuina starting, while Barrett is on the bench, Saili said that the four would reflect on how far they have come after the Test.

“Yeah I’ve got a few mates that will be playing alongside of me,” he said.

“Afterwards we can look back and say in 2011 we were talking about playing for the All Blacks, and now that dream has come true.

“We knew that the dream was there, and that it wasn’t going to be easy, but it is awesome that we’re all part of this group. We’re proud that we’ve got to this stage.

“It is special times.”