Chiefs midfielder Alex Nankivell continues to make his case for All Blacks selection, with another eye-catching performance against the Waratahs.
Nankivell was irresistible against the New South Welshmen at Melbourne, causing his opposites nightmares, as he steered the Chiefs to a dominant 51-27 win to kick off the trans-Tasman phase of Super Rugby Pacific.
He has struggled to lock in a consistent starting spot ahead of emerging international Quinn Tupaea and 56-test veteran Anton Lienert-Brown, but with Lienert-Brown now likely out for the season, Nankivell has taken full advantage to cement his spot in the No.13 jersey.
"He's certainly been playing well," Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan said. "He's probably our most consistent performer.
"I'd probably put it down to the fact that he’s actually playing consistent rugby. Over the last couple of years, he's had to fight for a position with Anton Lienert-Brown, Quinn Tupaea and Sean Wainui, so there's been some competition there.
"He's always been an outstanding Chief and a solid performer. Like I said, he just hasn't had the opportunity to string the consistent games together, because of the cattle he’s been having to compete against, but he's doing a great job at the moment.
"One way or another, Anton getting injured, us sort of rotating our All Blacks back in early doors, it gave Alex the opportunity to string some consecutive games together and that’s been really beneficial for him."
In recent years, the midfield has been one of the most contentious areas in the All Blacks starting XV, with several different combinations tried and tested, largely due to injuries.
Given his form so far this season - building on an outstanding NPC campaign with Tasman - Nankivell may well be in the mix for a shot against Ireland in the upcoming July test series.
Captain Sam Cane reflected on some of the bad luck Nankivell had to overcome early in his tenure with the Chiefs, including a "clerical error" that forced him to leave a tour to South Africa and bursting his appendix twice.
"He's been with us since he was about 20 years old, I think," Cane said. "Particularly in his early stages, he had some horrifically bad luck with all sorts of bizarre things, from appendix to getting sent home from South Africa because of his visa.
"He had a real rough time for a long period, so it's awesome to see him have a really good run and show everyone what he's capable of."
Nankivell will face some stiff competition for the test midfield spots in Lienert-Brown - who's expected to be recovered from his shoulder injury - Tupaea, David Havili, Jack Goodhue and Rieko Ioane.
Starting for the Crusaders this weekend, Goodhue could force his way back into the fold in his return from his lengthy layoff, as could convert Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, while Jordie Barrett has impressed since his shift to the No.12 jersey.
Nankivell will have another chance to impress against Wallabies midfielder Hunter Paisami, when the Chiefs take on the Reds at Brisbane next weekend.
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