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Long Wait Over For Delany's Big Chance

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Long Wait Over For Delany's Big Chance

By Mark Geenty of NZPA

Milan, Nov 12 NZPA - A decade ago, a glum Mike Delany was coming to terms with narrowly missing the New Zealand Under-17 World Cup soccer squad.

He'd only passed around a rugby ball for fun with his mates at Rotorua Boys' High School and his small frame didn't mark him down as first 15 material.

But natural talent goes a long way, and Delany didn't waste his.

"Growing up in Rotorua there was a lot of peer pressure, playing for Rotorua BHS, soccer was frowned upon a bit so I ended up turning to the oval ball and I've been happy with that change ever since," he said at the All Blacks' Milan hotel as he contemplates a test debut against Italy here on Sunday (NZT).

That Rotorua first 15 in 2000 contained lock Tom Donnelly and a young up-and-comer called Liam Messam. In a nice twist the trio will all run out onto San Siro in the All Blacks' starting 15.

Rotorua finished third in the New Zealand schools' championship with their three future All Blacks at the helm, with Delany's speed and courage seen as his biggest assets, despite his size.

"We lost to Kelston Boys in the semifinal. A few of those big boys like (Sione) Lauaki were playing for Kelston as well," Delany recalled.

The first part might have come easily, but the next nine years weren't so flash for the Mt Maunganui native.

He went to Waikato University and played fullback for their club side, with another future All Black David Hill at five-eighth, but never threatened to make Waikato or national age-grade teams.

He identified 2005 as a pivotal move in his rugby career, when he returned to Bay of Plenty.

"I enjoyed my time at varsity, played a bit of footy and got a good balance there.

"I left Hamilton after varsity to make the Bay side once Glen Jackson had gone, I thought 'do some hard yards and see what happens from there'."

He racked up 267 points that season for Mt Maunganui but Murray Williams stood in his way in the rep side.

Delany eventually forced his way past Williams with the Steamers, but the Chiefs still rated Williams higher and Delany was forced south to the Highlanders last year on the draft.

With Williams since departed for Japan, Delany made coach Ian Foster's squad this year and, despite Stephen Donald being the top five-eighth, he quickly made the right people notice.

All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith this week said a memorable try in Bloemfontein first piqued their interest, when Delany came off the bench and brushed off six Cheetahs behemoths to touch down.

"It's the most tiring 10min of footy I've ever played. I saw a bit of a hole and Dwayne Sweeney pushed me through and I don't know what happened next," Delany said.

"I was on the tryline, a bit of a shock. I think that'll definitely go on the highlights reel."

That carried on to the Air NZ Cup where All Blacks coach Graham Henry rated him the form player of the competition -- an eye for a gap, good tactical nous and an excellent boot.

It saw him selected as one of the tour bolters, along with Otago's Ben Smith, and this week put him in the bizarre position of usurping Donald in the black No 10 jersey.

At 27, Henry pointed out he was still younger than centres Frank Bunce and Joe Stanley when they made their test debuts.

Said Delany: "I didn't think I was that old, really. I just kept at it and if it comes, it comes, and if not just put my best foot forward. It worked out well."

Delany was tasked with setting the All Blacks gameplan, and after guiding the Steamers around and playing under Foster's tuition with the Chiefs, he felt well qualified. Still, it was a touch daunting telling senior All Blacks how they'd take it to Italy.

You could say he's the typical Kiwi bloke who lists his hobbies as fishing, surfing and golf, and now finds himself as the first five-eighth backup to Dan Carter.

Delany admits nerves are building, but is determined to make the most of it at a packed San Siro and not shelve the running game that served him so well this year.

"Hopefully I'll thrive in that environment and it brings the best out of me. I'm a cruisey kind of bloke. I just back myself."


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