Rugby Teams
Sam Bruce, ESPN Associate Editor 27d

Is Wellington hooker Asafo Aumua the next All Blacks superstar?

He's the hot-stepping, spin-moving, hat-trick scoring hooker regarded as New Zealand's next big thing, and Asafo Aumua is certainly living up to expectations in this year's Mitre 10 Cup.

But unlike the star of last year's edition of New Zealand's domestic competition, Jordie Barrett, who was the subject of a tug-o-war battle between the Crusaders and Hurricanes, Aumua's Super Rugby future is secure at the Wellington-based franchise.

Twelve months ago, Barrett was dominating the Mitre 10 Cup for Canterbury and trying to decide whether his Super Rugby future lay with brother Scott at the Crusaders, or brother Beauden at the Hurricanes. Jordie eventually decided on a move to the capital, making every post a winner as he established himself in the Hurricanes' backline, before earning start a fullback for the All Blacks in the drawn third Test against the British & Irish Lions at Eden Park. A shoulder injury has since ended Jordie's season.

Back in Wellington, Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd is likely licking his lips given Aumua's exploits in the Mitre 10 Cup. Just last Sunday, Aumua enjoyed a 60-metre run to the line, featuring an in-and-away All Blacks great Jeff Wilson would be proud of, in Wellington's 60-14 thrashing of defending champions Canterbury at Westpac Stadium.

Aumua has been mentioned as a possibility for the All Blacks' apprentice role for the spring tour, a position future Hurricanes teammate Barrett filled last year, with Steve Hansen confirming earlier this month the hooker was on the radar.

"He's a good player... I don't think you can ever be too worried about anyone coming through too quickly," Hansen said.

"He's playing very well, especially around the park. But it's his core roles you really want to see him do well in and he's doing OK in those too. He's got a big future...we'll see how he goes. It might be better for him to just have a good offseason. We'll make a decision about all of that nearer the time."

Aumua is enjoying his second Mitre 10 Cup season with Wellington having finished last year as the club's leading try-scorer (6) which included a hat-trick against Northland.

But it was another three-try effort, this time in the Junior World Championship final in Georgia in June, that announced Aumua to a global audience as the Baby Blacks hammered England 64-17. Despite that performance, Aumua was overlooked as one of five nominees for the Player of the Tournament Award with teammates Will Jordan and Tiaan Falcon, South African Juarno Augustus and Englishmen Zach Mercer and Gabriel Ibitoye all vying for the honour to be announced later this year.

That omission is unlikely to have perturbed Aumua, though inclusion on the All Blacks' tour to Europe would certainly more than make up for it. And he has a chance to further press those claims on Sunday afternoon when the Lions travel to Hamilton to face Waikato.

A place in the All Blacks squad travelling north in November would also give Aumua the chance to work with Dane Coles, whom he will understudy at the Hurricanes next year, and with whom he shares a similar up-tempo game few other hookers around the globe possess.

The All Blacks face France, Scotland and Wales on the spring tour and will also play non-Test fixtures against the Barbarians and a French XV.

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