Debutant Dalton Papali'i reflects on 'crazy' rise to All Blacks for Japan test

All Blacks debutant Dalton Papali'i is still trying to wrap his head around the fact that he's about to don the black jersey he's dreamed of his entire life.

After an outstanding breakthrough season for the national champion Auckland side, Papali'i was included in the extended squad of provincial rookies to get a taste of test rugby against Japan on Saturday.

On Monday, he was confirmed to wear the hallowed number seven jersey in Tokyo – one of eight new faces for the one-off test.

The 21-year-old offered a bemused laugh as he reflected on that moment his heard his name aloud.

"You can't really describe it," Papali'i said. "It's crazy."

"You dream all your life about being in this position, like evry little kid. To actually hear your name called out…it's pretty special.

"Family was really happy – Mum was crying, dad was pretty speechless."

Selection to the national side is a far cry from the milestones Papali'I set for himself at the start of the season.

"My first goal was to try and make my way into Super Rugby, try to get a few games and maybe even make the bench.

"But things can change in a short amount of time, just look at my pathway this year.

"I never thought I was going to be in the All Blacks this year. My goal right now is just to make an impact in the black jersey and help this team go forward and be successful.

"Have to admit, I've made it pretty far now."

Debutant Dalton Papali'i reflects on 'crazy' rise to All Blacks for Japan test

Earlier this year, he achieved the first of those goals when he was called into the Blues squad to replace the injured Blake Gibson.

Now he's preparing to don the most hallowed number in All Blacks history.

"I'm filling some big shoes. The best player in the world has played in it, Richie McCaw.

"You can't take it for granted. I'm still in a dream at the moment where it's just before kick-off and I'm putting it on. I've got a lot of emotions, I don't know what's going to happen.

"It's about adding to that legacy. I'm going to try to do my bit for that jersey."

Papalii's also eager to repay his whanau for the faith they've shown and sacrifices they've made in enabling him to reach such heights – do them justice with his on-field performance.

"My Auntie was telling me that nobody in my family has ever made it this far.

"We've been through a bit, and for me to get to this point in my career - it's special for me to give back to them for what they've done for me growing up."

Despite the high stakes, he insists he'll approach the match like he would any other.

"I've got my own processes I'll go through," said Papali'i.

"I've got to listen to a bit of music to gear me up. I've got this little thing with my shoelaces I do. And that's me."


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