Levi's true blue work ethic
There's a more rugged edge to the Tasman Makos' forward pack this season.
Much of it comes down to the presence of their new locking partnership, Filipo Levi and Tevita Cavubati, both impressive physical specimens and, in Levi's case at least, with plenty of experience to boot.
Levi's not exactly sure of the number, but reckons he's played more than 250 first-class games, involving stints in Japan and England and including 70 games for Otago and 63 for the Highlanders. He's also played 30 internationals, 25 for Samoa and five for the Pacific Islanders, but after two tough National Provincial Championship games for Tasman this season, he has earned a deserved rest for Sunday's match against Manawatu in Palmerston North.
He turned 33 yesterday and with 119kg locked and loaded in his imposing 1.98m frame, it's little wonder Tasman coaches Kieran Keane and Leon MacDonald wanted him back this year.
He played four games for Tasman last season, including the 21-19 win over Hawke's Bay in Napier, and eagerly accepted the invitation to return.
Last Saturday's 49-40 Ranfurly Shield loss to Taranaki was galling but he said the team had to move on.
"The boys are disappointed about certain aspects of our game where we should have done better, but I think the feeling is that we could have won it, but we didn't," he said.
"That's the plain facts and we need to forget about it and move on to the [Manawatu] Turbos on Sunday."
It wasn't his first losing shield experience. He was a 20-year-old tyro when he was called into the Otago side, as a reserve, for their 2000 challenge against Canterbury, with Levi entering the contest after only 10 minutes to mark Todd Blackadder.
"That was quite a scary moment but we played well and we just lost [29-26] in the last five minutes through a try to [Canterbury wing] Caleb Ralph."
There was one moment in last Saturday's challenge - a thundering first-half tackle by Levi on Taranaki loosie Jarrad Hoeata - that typified Levi's approach and value to the Tasman side.
"That's just one of the things I need to do, to be physical and to try and give something for the boys to try and get everyone up and play our best."
The tackle prompted a retaliatory swinging arm from Hoeata, which also left an impression on Levi.
"I felt two of them. I felt the first one, which was quite high, and then he gave me another one on the ground. I said, ‘mate, what are you up to', and we just had a wee laugh about it after the game. I told him, ‘mate, I'm still feeling your arm around my neck'. He just laughed about it."
Manawatu are now the team's sole focus and despite the positive vibes emanating from the Tasman camp, Levi said they still posed a genuine threat.
"They're a huge danger for us, them being at home. We really need to be on our game and cut [out] our mistakes and restrict Manawatu, who were in the [championship] final last year.
"We've got a long way to go and we just need to take it one game at a time, as the old saying goes in rugby. I think the guys just have to keep preparing the same way as they've done in the last two weeks and keep our systems.
"We need to improve in wee bits of our game, our kickoffs and lineouts, which weren't great for us and me personally - and also as a team - our defence which leaked easy points. We need to really improve in those aspects of our game to keep moving up the ladder."
After beating Canterbury and their impressive attacking performance against Taranaki, Tasman's supporters will expect another positive effort.
"There's a bit of pressure there but we need pressure to play at our best, and we've shown over the last two games that we can play well," he said.
"And if we can defend like we did against Canterbury and bring that together against the Turbos and really play our game and improve in those aspects, then we can go a long way in this competition."
Even after only four games with the side last year, Levi believed that there was a stronger mental attitude in this year's squad.
"We've just tried to change our mindsets to really believe in the team and the systems we have. They're there for a reason [and] Kieran and Rangi [MacDonald] have been working on it for the last two years, and have been planning this team since January this year, so they know what they're doing.
"We just need to work as a team and believe in each other."
And, of course, rise above last week's disappointment. "We have to, that's the nature of the game."
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