Fakatava makes a change

Highlanders halfback Folau Fakatava ignites the attack during a game earlier this season. PHOTO:...
Highlanders halfback Folau Fakatava ignites the attack during a game earlier this season. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Folau Fakatava is so unpredictable that it can be tempting — and completely misguided, obviously — to wonder at times if he is playing for himself and not his team.

But he really is not playing for himself now.

The Highlanders halfback made the most of his bye week to head home to Hawke’s Bay to spend some time with a little human who is just a bit more important to Fakatava than his first five or No 8.

His son, Folau jun, is seven months old.

"It was good to go home and fill up the cup and do a few nappy changes, and refresh and reset," Fakatava said.

"It’s given me real purpose, what I need to do to provide.

"But nothing changes. I love rugby and what I’m doing. Without rugby, I’m nothing and no-one.

"I just need to stay healthy so I can provide for my family."

Fatherhood has coincided with a significant point in Fakatava’s career.

After spending years as an apprentice to Highlanders and All Blacks great Aaron Smith, he has been given a chance to take over the No 9 jersey in the South and continue the legacy established by the bloke they call "Nugget", who is ending his career in Japan.

"It’s been a big step for me, but it’s just about working hard and keep working on my game.

"I learned from Nuggie, and now I can pass it down.

"I’m only 24 and I feel old, ha-ha. But I’m really excited to get a lot of game time this season."

Like his team-mates, the Tongan-born halfback was eager to move on quickly from the Highlanders’ poor performance in a heavy loss to the Hurricanes before bye week.

They flew to Australia yesterday to prepare for games against the Rebels (tomorrow night) and the Reds (next Friday) that could well define their season.

For Fakatava, tomorrow night is not only about using his own game — that energy, those attacking runs — to inspire the Highlanders, but making sure he supports rookie first five Ajay Faleafaga on his starting debut.

"It’s really exciting. Ajay’s game is different from the other 10s, I guess, with his running game.

"To play with him this weekend is exciting. I know what he can bring to the team.

"I think we just need to be on the same page in terms of our game plan, and just do our job for the team, and he can do his own thing when opportunities come."

In front of him, he will have another change at No 8 to deal with, as Nikora Broughton returns in place of Tom Sanders.

"Nikora is a great player. He brings a lot to the team.

"He’s pretty physical, even though he’s not the biggest. He puts his body on the line for the team. It’s good to play with him. "And we’re actually flatting together, so it’s good to learn from each other."

Fakatava said his knee, following his recovery from ACL ruptures, was stable and healthy.

He became something of a forgotten man at the top level last year thanks to the emergence of Hurricanes star Cam Roigard, who went to the World Cup with the All Blacks alongside Smith and Finlay Christie.

Roigard’s injury and Smith’s departure surely point to Fakatava adding to the two caps he earned in 2022, but that talk can wait for now.

"That’s the ultimate goal, to be in the All Blacks this year, but for me right now it’s more of a focus on the Landers.

"Keep my performance consistent every week and then hopefully, at the end of the season, get lucky — but I’m not really worried about that right now."