WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- NRL convert Ngani Laumape took a further step towards a first All Blacks start with yet another bullocking display for the Hurricanes on Tuesday night.
Laumape was among the Hurricanes' standout performers in a thrilling 31-all draw with the British & Irish Lions as he gave the tourists a taste of his brutal Super Rugby form -- a season that has so far yielded 14 tries -- in their final midweek contest, leaving a lasting impression on Welshman Dan Biggar in particular.
But trampling over the top of the Lions' fly-half for a try was just one of a series of brutal runs as Laumape not only made the gainline time and time again, but blasted through it to keep the hosts well and truly on the front foot.
"Ngani? Where to start? He was an absolute wrecking ball," Hurricanes winger Nehe Milner-Skudder said. "It's pretty easy when you've got a guy like him hitting off that first-receiver and gets the boys great go-forward. And when he's out on the wing, with one person in front of him, he's going to go close to scoring which he did tonight.
"You can see a lot of confidence that he has come back with from being away with the All Blacks and, yeah, I'm just excited to be outside a guy like him that will create a lot of opportunities."
Laumape finished Tuesday night's match with 11 runs for 125 metres, four clean breaks, two beaten defenders and a try. But it was a stylish second-half kick that caught Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd's eye, and he later spoke of Laumape's growth as a rugby player in his two short years at the club.
"Last year for us he was sort of in that transition, learning transition; he was a great schoolboy footballer at Palmy Boys' High [Palmerston North Boys High School] and got lured to the dark side and played in the NRL," Boyd explained. "His childhood dream was always to be an All Black and so we had an opportunity to contract him.
"He grew last year but he came back...he worked incredibly hard in the offseason and came back really fit and it wasn't the case last year. And I think that gave him the opportunity to do things, to do more things and he has just got more confident.
"And he's got a more rounded game than people give him credit for, he's got quite a nice little kicking game, he's obviously brutal on the carry and he's becoming a much smarter defender and he's a tough man to mark. I think he's going from strength to strength both on the field, and he's been great in the environment off the field, too."
Barring an injury to Sonny Bill Williams or Anton Lienert-Brown this weekend, Laumape may have to wait until the Rugby Championship later in the year before he wins a first Test cap. But blessed with a similar power-running game to All Blacks great Ma'a Nonu, it's easy to see why New Zealand coach Steve Hansen was eager to bring him into the fold ahead of the Lions series.
"I think probably having that experience, that one year coming from rugby league, it's hard to kind of get your head around the structures and the systems and the lines," Milner-Skudder said of Laumape's rapid improvement in 2017.
"And he's worked on little parts of his game that second-five midfielders need to do and, as well that, just that confidence to back himself. And those big pistons to get trucking, he's done b----- great."