Young Kiwi prop ready to face mighty Lions
Richard Aho's initial experience on the turf at the Sydney Football Stadium was daunting enough, although signing autographs for the first time will not compare with the prospect of tackling the British and Irish Lions.
The Auckland-born prop admitted he "mucked up a few" signatures at the New South Wales Waratahs' fans day at the stadium on Wednesday, and he hoped he would not be as nervous at the same venue tomorrow night.
Aho, 25, made his Super Rugby debut last Sunday against the Western Force, so it would be understandable if he approached his next assignment with trepidation.
He got only four minutes of game time at the end of the Waratahs' win in Perth, but a similar allocation against the Lions would be an enduring memory.
The specialist tighthead switched from the Massey club in Auckland three years ago to Penrith, then Randwick, and the construction site labourer has been biding his time for an opportunity ever since.
Aho joined the Waratahs squad during the 2013 pre-season on a temporary basis and played trials against the Blues and Melbourne Rebels in February.
He then returned to the Sydney club scene but always knew the Lions loomed on the horizon, and he realised he would have a chance of being involved in the tour match if Sekope Kepu was in form.
Auckland-born Kepu and Wallabies loosehead Benn Robinson were named in the Wallabies squad for the three-test series, meaning Waratahs coach Michael Cheika needed propping cover for a sought-after fixture.
"After the trials they told me to go back to club and go as hard as I could," said Aho, who made North Harbour's development squad but never the step up to national provincial competition.
"I knew some of the Waratahs guys would go away for the Wallabies. I saw that as an opportunity."
Since the Lions tour began in Hong Kong against the Barbarians on June 1, Aho has monitored their form, particularly up front.
"They're really solid in their set piece and they get their backs into good positions," he said.
If required off the bench to replace Paddy Ryan, the 120-kilogram Aho will lock heads with Mako Vunipola or fellow Englishman Dan Coles.
"I've seen them on TV, that's about it. I just know their names," Aho said of his basic research.
"It's going to be a step up to play guys that are paid to do it every day.
"I'm a bit nervous. They're international props, but you have to give it all."
At least he is a step close to a career highlight, unlike Wellington midfield back and Randwick team-mate Terrence Hepetema.
The luckless 21-year-old was going to be in the reserves until Rob Horne was released from the Wallabies camp to start at centre. Hepetema was nudged off the bench by Tom Kingston and will now watch the game from the stands, barring a late injury.