WELLINGTON – It was an emotional moment for Angus Ta'avao when he was elevated to the All Blacks for the rest of the Rugby Championship but the move also highlighted the strain injury issues are placing on the world champions' depth at prop.
Ta'avao, who was not even contracted by a Super Rugby side at the start of the season, was brought into the All Blacks on Thursday after Joe Moody was ruled out with a broken thumb.
The 28-year-old is the second player who did not have a Super Rugby contract at the start of the season to be drafted in after fellow prop Karl Tu'inukuafe was called in for their June series against France.
“I've shed a few tears, it's been a pretty big couple of days,” Ta'avao told Radio Sport on Thursday about his call-up to the national side.
“I was only supposed to be with the Chiefs until January. I never thought too much about the next level - I was just enjoying playing.”
Ta'avao had been used primarily as a bench player by the Auckland Blues and was never really in the frame for the All Blacks, which prompted him to move to Sydney to join the New South Wales Waratahs in 2016.
He then stated his intention to push hard for inclusion with Australia, courtesy of his Melbourne-born mother, and said Wallabies coach Michael Cheika had been in touch.
However, he returned to New Zealand for family reasons after the 2017 season and his professional career was only able to take off again when the Chiefs lost all six of their originally contracted props with long-term injuries.
Three of those injured players - Nepo Laulala, Kane Hames and Atu Moli - were All Blacks last year.
Ta'avao, who had previously struggled to impose himself in games, appeared to get a new lease on life under Colin Cooper in Hamilton and along with Tu'inukuafe provided the Chiefs with one of the best scrums in the competition.
“The big question of me has always been my scrummaging and I feel I have stepped up this year,” Ta'avao said. “The Chiefs had a solid scrum and worked well as a pack.”
Ta'avao does face obstacles ahead if he wants to cement a place with the All Blacks.
First-choice tighthead prop Owen Franks is locked in for next year's Rugby World Cup, while Ofa Tuungafasi is expected to battle with Laulala for the bench role when the Chiefs' player returns from a broken arm.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has discounted Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen due to injury.
Moli is being tipped for a bright future by the All Blacks when he recovers from a thigh injury, while Hansen has also said Tu'inukuafe can play both sides of the scrum, giving him more options and depth.
The All Blacks' next Rugby Championship match is against Argentina in Nelson on September 8.