Surprised Walden took opportunity

Tei Walden crosses the line to score against the Blues last week. Photo: Gregor Richardson
Tei Walden crosses the line to score against the Blues last week. Photo: Gregor Richardson
In a crowded field, Tei Walden is making the most of his opportunity.

Walden (24) started the first game of the season for the Highlanders, against the Blues, and repaid the investment shown in him by the coaches by scoring two tries.

Malakai Fekitoa may have left but there are still plenty of options to play in the midfield for the Highlanders.

Many were picking Walden would be at the bottom of the queue but he somewhat surprisingly got picked to wear the No12 jersey against the Blues and did little wrong in his game while marking Sonny Bill Williams.

He teamed up with Rob Thompson, who also helped himself to two tries.

Walden admitted he did not expect to get a start.

''I was surprised to get it but I was obviously chuffed to get the opportunity from the coaches. We put in a lot of hard work in that pre-season so to get that reward was pleasing,'' he said.

''We got the opportunity first up in our pre-season to have a crack and work on our connections there. We enjoyed working together but it doesn't matter who gets the chance, they're going to take it.''

He said when surrounded by superstars in the Highlanders backline, all he had to focus on was his own role.

He said Fekitoa still kept in contact with the team through social media and the big centre was enjoying his time in France.

The team trained for the first half of last week before having a few days off.

Walden said last week was productive despite not playing a game.

''I guess you have to look at the positives and we had a bit of time to grow as a team. We still had training at the start of the week ... you get that sort of momentum and then you get the weekend off. But as players we just have to learn to live with it.''

Walden had played for Otago since 2013 but has decided to head home to Taranaki for the Mitre 10 Cup this season.

He said it was time to reconnect with family back in Taranaki and he was looking forward to heading home. He was contracted to the Highlanders until the end of this season.

Meanwhile, the Stormers are resting up in Queenstown and will travel to Dunedin tomorrow for the match against the Highlanders on Friday night at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

The side lost 45-28 to the Crusaders in Christchurch last Saturday but played well in patches.

Stormers lock JD Schickerling has gone home because of a sore shoulder and been replaced by youngster Salmaan Moerat.

Aggressive loose forward Pieter-Steph du Toit has passed a concussion test while first five-eighth Damian Willemse has recovered from a bruised leg and is available to play.

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