After six seasons with the Crusaders and three Super Rugby titles, Ross Filipo thought he was done with New Zealand rugby.
But at the age of 33, Filipo is back for more and this time he joins another title-winning outfit in the form of the Chiefs, with a new lease on life.
Former All Black Filipo is one of nine newcomers to the 32-man squad, bringing enormous experience as a tight loose forward/lock.
"It's a fresh start for me and to be fair I actually didn't think it would happen," Filipo said.
"When I initially left [New Zealand in 2009] I left with the intention of not returning but things change and here I am."
Lower Hutt-born Filipo went to Europe and played for Bayonne in France for two seasons before moving to London Wasps for the 2011-12 season.
But last year he headed home with his wife and two children - a 4-year-old son and 2 -year-old daughter - and another baby is due end of April/early May.
"Me and my wife felt we'd done enough time overseas and we wanted to be closer to support and family with a couple of young kids and a third on the way. We felt it was a good time for us to come home and bed down some roots really."
When Filipo first decided to head home he thought his rugby career was finished but Wellington coach Chris Boyd thought otherwise and convinced him to return to the province where he had played all his national provincial championship rugby.
"I spoke to Chris Boyd before I left England and me and him discussed the possibility of playing ITM Cup.
"I'd watched a bit while I was over there and it looked a lot faster than what I was playing, so I had to do quite a bit of work to prepare myself for that and I think that helped in terms of me getting selected for Super Rugby again.
"A lot of guys have come back in the past and struggled with the pace of the game, and I knew that was one focus I had to put a lot of emphasis on, but as it turned out I had a good enough ITM Cup and Dave [Rennie] gave me a call," Filipo said.
It was something of a surprise for Filipo who wasn't expecting to return to Super Rugby level.
"I put my name out there and said yeah, I'll play if selected but wasn't expecting to get picked up."
At 1.96 metres tall and 118kg Filipo certainly presents bulk to the Chiefs pack but he has been selected as a loose forward and has been working hard to get his fitness to a point where he can cope with the requirements of the fast-paced Super Rugby loose forward game and that has meant a disciplined time over Christmas and New Year.
"I've had to be very stringent with my diet because the older you get, the easier it is to put on weight, so diet is probably a big focus for me and recovery - looking after my body because I've had a few knocks over the years and tend to pick up a few niggles so it's all about management and maintaining.
"I was fairly careful over Christmas and the kids kind of run me around and keep me fit now, so that's enjoyable."
Filipo is impressed with the team culture that has been built within the Chiefs, particularly last season.
"It's probably been building for a number of seasons but with the new coaching team that came in they were able to put it together really well and in a way that the guys could really buy into and I just want to add as much as I can in any way I can," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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