Afoa happy to cover hooker
November 11, 2010
John Afoa had been practicing line-out throws with Keven Mealamu © Getty Images
All Blacks prop John Afoa says he's ready to step into the breach at hooker if required as team-mate Keven Mealamu waits to have an appeal against his tour-ending suspension heard.
Regular No.2 Mealamu has been handed a four-week ban by the IRB for a headbutt of England captain Lewis Moody, leaving New Zealand with only uncapped Hika Elliot and injury returnee Andrew Hore as cover in the middle of the front row.
Afoa, who revealed he has been groomed as a potential hooker since June, would then be the next logical player to take over the role if injuries or fitness dictated it necessary. So while the thought of taking on line-out throw responsibility in a hostile northern hemisphere environment could worry some players, the Blues prop is taking it in his stride.
"I guess with Kevvy getting a rest, if one more falls over it could always happen," he said ahead of Saturday's test against Scotland at Murrayfield.
Hours before Mealamu fronted his judicial hearing, he took his Auckland and Blues front row companion aside for some extra tuition.
"After training Kevvy said 'Let's throw a few darts.' We were there 20 minutes throwing the ball. Shag (assistant coach Steve Hansen) stuck around and gave me a few pointers on the release of the ball too and the way I was holding it.
"I haven't done any throwing into an actual lineout but I've been doing plenty of practice. I'm at a stage where I'm only five months into it, I'm reasonably happy."
Afoa had expected to concentrate on propping during the five-test tour though he has long been identified as a potential back-up hooker. It took until Afoa was overlooked for the June internationals before the 27-year-old realised the selectors were urging him in a positive direction.
"When I missed out earlier this year they said we really want you to try this out and give it a good go, it could be a good thing in the future," said Afoa who was recalled for the Tri-Nations clinching epic in Soweto.
"I've only had bits and bobs, a run here or there. Next year's going to be the big thing," Afoa said, "I really want to have a good nudge at in the Super 15 and see what happens."
Afoa has history at hooker - he played there for the St Kentigern College first XV though admittedly the role has changed in the intervening 13 years.
"The balls weren't as fast back then. We just threw it in and just hoped it got there," said Afoa. "Throwing is quite a detailed skill, I thought I'd just grab it and throw it in. The wet ball is just a killer. If the lifter is a bit slow you throw that ball, it misses and everyone plays you. I feel the pain of the hookers."
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