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Fekitoa breaks through fog to shine for NZ

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 10/11/2016 Angelo Risso

Malakai Fekitoa © Fiona Goodall/Getty Images Malakai Fekitoa

All Blacks midfielder Malakai Fekitoa has spent 2016 winning Test after Test for his adopted homeland and becoming a marketable Kiwi sports star.

Yet, on the inside, the Tongan-born centre could barely find the energy for parts of the year to keep chugging along.

A fringe member of the All Blacks' victorious World Cup squad, Fekitoa entered the 2016 campaign in the best shape of his life and with a clear pathway to the Test No.13 jumper.

But for reasons the softly-spoken Highlanders ace still struggles to explain, the fire went out soon after the All Blacks' June series win over Wales.

He began to overthink his role for both club and country, and found it difficult to zero in on pre-match preparation as the keyboard warriors stirred.

It was an unnerving experience for a man renowned for his relentless positivity on social media.

"Everything was fine and then I guess I felt flat, I didn't enjoy my rugby after a couple months," the 24-year-old Fekitoa said.

"I've been talking to my family a lot about it and people have been helping me out, sometimes rugby is a bit too much, but I don't know, I didn't know what happened."

Having played the first four matches of New Zealand's Rugby Championship win, Fekitoa found himself outside the matchday 23 for his side's away Tests in Argentina and South Africa.

It was only through the pain of Test omission, according to the Aucklander, that the rugby flames were stoked once again.

"I wasn't that excited for a wee while and until I had my break for South Africa and Argentina, it kind of made me realise how much I missed playing and still need to improve," he said.

Fekitoa entered as a substitute in his side's third Bledisloe triumph in Auckland and surprise loss to Ireland in Chicago, and will don the No.13 jumper in Saturday's Test against Italy.

And despite his tender years, Fekitoa will take on a senior role in the side in Rome as coach Steve Hansen looks to keep his troops fresh for upcoming Tests in Dublin and Paris.

The 21-cap Fekitoa's 2016 experience sheds an invaluable light on life as an All Black in the modern day and all the hullaballoo that surrounds it from fans, media and business.

Hansen said the expectations placed upon players and staff alike were more intense than anything else in rugby, particularly for younger players.

"We try to make it as easy as possible for them but at the same time there's always that scrutiny, it's there all the time, 24/7, and it's hard work."

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