All Blacks v Ireland: Newcomer Leicester Fainga'anuku relishing competition in race for test debut against Ireland

Uncapped All Black Leicester Fainga'anuku doesn't plan on changing a thing, celebrating his first taste of the international arena, after receiving his first call-up from coach Ian Foster.

After a stellar season with the Crusaders, helping the Cantabrians to a sixth title in as many years, Fainga'anuku, 22, is one of six new faces in Foster's squad for the upcoming three-test series against Ireland.

The call-up is just reward for Fainga'anuku, who has been part of four victorious campaigns for the Crusaders, showcasing his abilities as either a winger or midfielder.

Leicester Fainga'anuku.
Leicester Fainga'anuku. Photo credit: Image - Getty Images

But rather than see All Blacks selection as an end-goal, Fainga'anuku is using the experience as a springboard to grow personally by working with New Zealand's best over the coming weeks.

"One thing I always pride myself on is to keep being me," Tonga-born Fainga'anuku said. "No matter what environment I'm in, circumstances of life, my performances the last few years, I always pride myself on having consistency week in, week out, every year.

"I think, by doing that, I'll be able to continue how I have, by learning and competing against some of the best players. That's how I roll and I'm really excited to do that here."

After being with the Crusaders since 2019, Fainga'anuku is no stranger to having to fight for a starting spot, having to hold off the likes of Sevu Reece, George Bridge, Will Jordan, Braydon Ennor, David Havili and Jack Goodhue just to feature for the Crusaders.

He, Reece and Jordan were joint leading tryscorers with 10 apiece during Super Rugby Pacific.

That competition only intensifies within the All Blacks' camp, with Fainga'anuku also up against Caleb Clarke, Rieko Ioane, Quinn Tupaea and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in the hunt for his test debut.

But far from being discouraged by an increase in quality players around him, Fainga'anuku is spurred on by the chance to prove himself.

Leicester Fainga'anuku.
Leicester Fainga'anuku. Photo credit: Image - Photosport

"It's exciting. Most people see it as competition, I see it as a blessing.

"It's a blessing to compete against some of the best players. For myself, growth is always going to be on mindset in teams like this, quality players around me.

"To be able to pick their brains apart is just exciting. It's only going to invest in myself and make me into a better player.

"It's exciting."

Leicester isn't the only Fainga'anuku celebrating a chance at playing test rugby either. 

Older brother Tima Fainga'anuku has recently been called into Tonga's plans for their Pacific Nations Cup campaign, giving the family another reason to smile.

But while the brothers haven't spoken about their individual success, the family are grateful Leicester and Tima have the chance to show their wares on the global stage.

"I haven't really talked to him too much, more mum and dad. They're probably the proudest out of everyone in the Fainga'anuku family.

"As a parent, you've got one son representing the place where we've come from and one representing the nation that's given us the opportunity to do what we do.

"As a family, we're truly grateful and thankful, not just for what rugby's done, but also the whole of New Zealand to build us into proud Kiwis.

"I'm truly grateful and blessed to be able to call this place home."

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