Naholo makes test statement

It would take a brave person to bet against Waisake Naholo starting on the right-wing in the first test against the British and Irish Lions.

The Fijian-born wing didn't just put up his hand for the No 14 jersey during the Highlanders' thrilling 23-22 win against the Lions in Dunedin on Tuesday night, he practically got on the blower to All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and demanded it. 

"Hopefully I did," Naholo said when asked if he thought he made a statement ahead of the first test in Auckland on Saturday week.

Naholo scored a try, chalked up 60 metres with his power and elusiveness, was solid under the high ball, made a key breakdown steal and probably condemned Lions wing Tommy Seymour to a few sleepless nights. 

"I was just a bit hungry [on Tuesday], I was excited, I was telling the guys I was excited to get the ball in my hands," Naholo said.

His latest effort wasn't a one-off. 

Naholo, who sat out six weeks with a hamstring injury earlier this year, has scored eight Super Rugby tries, including two against the Crusaders less than a fortnight ago. 

But whether or not Hansen tosses him a test start against the Lions won't be known for more than a week.

Naholo's biggest rivals for the wing spots are Israel Dagg, Rieko Ioane and Julian Savea. 

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure four doesn't go into two, but Naholo has the backing of Highlanders assistant coach Scott McLeod, who filled in for absent head coach Tony Brown, who is in Japan, against the Lions on Tuesday. 

"I'd like to hope so," McLeod said when asked if he thought Naholo's sparkling performance was enough to earn a starting spot and 13th test cap for the All Blacks.

"We hold high expectations of Waisake here, and he does himself. We're thankful that he got released for the week and he put in a quality performance."

With six outside backs in the All Blacks' 33-man squad, it's almost certain Ben Smith will start at fullback, while Hansen will probably go with Julian Savea on the left-wing. 

Never say never, but it's unlikely the inexperienced Ioane or rookie Jordie Barrett starts on the right-wing, leaving a toss-up between Israel Dagg and Naholo for the other wing. 

Dagg still hasn't played an awful lot of rugby since he required knee surgery in March, and did look short of a gallop when playing for the Crusaders against the Lions last weekend. 

Of course, with the All Blacks set to play Samoa at Eden Park on Friday night, much could still change, particularly if Hansen loses someone to injury. 

Naholo, who busted through a couple of tackles to score the opening try on Tuesday night, compared the one-off match against the Lions to a test match. 

"They were really tough ... the intensity and the speed out there was test match stuff. It was different from Super Rugby level."


Photo by: HANNAH PETERS/GETTY IMAGES (Highlanders wing Waisake Naholo scored the opening try against the Lions in Dunedin on Tuesday night).