At over two metres tall and tipping the scales at over 15 stone, the towering lock should have been choking on the dust of an international winger going through the gears and with the benefit of a metre start.
Yet, nothing seems beyond this All Black team where props pass like out-halves and wingers tackle like the mightiest of forwards. ‘Total rugby’ came to Dublin on Saturday and it was a privilege to see it.
Eaton is actually the perfect barometer of the bottomless pool of talent Graham Henry has to call on. Prior to Lansdowne Road, the 23-year-old had never played Super 12, had never even worn a Silver Fern on his chest at any level. Last year he was playing for Taranaki’s second XV, for God’s sake. Understandable then that he was dying to get the three anthems and even the treasured ‘haka’ out of the way and for Jonathan Kaplan to let the real festivities commence.
“I was quite keen for them to get all that out of the way actually. I just wanted to get into the game. The ‘haka’ is part of the tradition and it’s very special. It was a really good feeling. I’d never done it in a black jersey before so it was great to get that chance.
“The boys were really eager to get out there. We’d been sort of waiting in the wings for game time and we just wanted to show what we could do. It did help that we’d been doing things as a unit for the last while.”
Such a rapid rise to the rarified altitude of Test rugby isn’t without precedent, of course, with Gordon D’Arcy and Australia’s Matt Giteau just two similar examples of callow youth being given it’s head in recent years, yet the ease with which Eaton slotted in was still breathtaking.
“It was very special. The boys looked after me. They made my job very easy, they helped me out in the last few weeks, made sure I knew all my roles within the team structure. They made sure I could just concentrate on things I needed to. It’s an occasion I’ll never forget. I’ll remember it forever.”
The jersey will soon hang on the wall of his parents’ house, but, unsurprisingly, large chunks of the afternoon escape him now. The pace with which the tourists play leaves little time for drawing breath and it was that sheer intensity and drive that made the biggest impression on him.
“It’s way faster (at Test level). The guys can do their job better so you can have more trust in each other. You can leave a ruck alone and maybe hit the next one, which is quite good if you want quick ball.
“As well as that, it’s the fact that you know you’re coming onto a much bigger stage. You’re overseas playing in front of packed stands and the Irish, you know, are going to be very passionate. It’s on live television and it’s just a bigger buzz.” The one caveat to New Zealand’s last two outings is actually the ease with which they have won. It’s all very well swatting aside injury-ravaged Celtic nations with limited resources, but England at Twickenham should be an entirely different proposition.
Andy Robinson isn’t likely to take a leaf out of Eddie O’Sullivan’s book and throw the leather around like a glorified Super 12 encounter. England have the forwards to ape South Africa whose bruising physicality up front has been the best template for upsetting the All Blacks this season.
“It didn’t feel easy,” Eaton countered. “It was quite physical out there and they showed a lot of passion, especially towards the end of the first half and at the end. They did well to get across for the try even if the boys aren’t too happy about that. It meant we finished on a bit of a sour note, but we just have to look forward now to the England game next week.”