It has taken time and a sacrificed holiday but young powerhouse Ben Tameifuna is starting to become a key force again for the Chiefs as they hunt home advantage for the Super Rugby playoffs.
This year the Chiefs have 127kg All Black Ben Afeaki available at the business end of the season and he is getting the starts at tighthead prop after some great 2013 form.
Tameifuna, 21, showed in Friday's 34-22 win over the Hurricanes with an influential final 30 minutes at Waikato Stadium that he provides the second part of 1-2 front row punch that could prove crucial in flattening opposition sides down the stretch in the Chiefs' remaining matches.
The 137kg Tameifuna, hindered by niggling injuries this season and prior to that an unfocused off-season that included getting dropped as a starter for Hawke's Bay in last year's ITM Cup, turned up for the Chiefs' 2013 campaign not in the sort of shape the coaches needed him in.
By the time of the Chiefs' win against the Crusaders just before the second bye, he was again playing a key role.
"I think he was pretty keen to go to Tonga for a week in that first part of the break but he was discouraged and to his credit he decided to stay and work hard, so while a lot of the boys went away from Hamilton he hung around," Rennie said.
"So the trainers got double sessions with him every day and he worked really hard. He's worked hard all year, despite a couple of setbacks through injury that slowed things down."
Rennie described Tameifuna as "an absolute rock at scrum time" and his work at tighthead led a powerful scrummaging effort by the Chiefs that gave them the upper hand in the final 30 minutes of the match against the Hurricanes, marking All Black Ben Franks.
A fitter Tameifuna is getting about the field better now and is able to show an impressive array of ball skills for a big man while close to the line he is hard to stop as he showed with his second-half try on Friday.
"Defensively he's also able to put some big shots in so we're really happy with Tame; he's made some big shifts."
Tameifuna admitted it had been a "pretty hard few weeks" as the trainers put him through his paces at Ruakura but he was able to get a couple of weekends off to see his young daughter in Wellington.
Now he wants to push for a starting spot, saying coming off the bench didn't suit him.
"Tonight it took me quite a while to get my second wind but after that things got better and better," Tameifuna said after Friday's win.
It was no coincidence that when Tameifuna was sent on as a replacement in the 49th minute against the Hurricanes, replacement hooker Mahonri Schwalger went with him.
Tameifuna looks upon Schwalger, also a strong scrummager, as his mentor in the team and they work closely together at scrum time.
The Chiefs, with a minimum of a home quarterfinal guaranteed, head to Christchurch this Friday to play the Crusaders with a two-point lead over South Africa Conference leaders Bulls and Australian Conference leaders the Brumbies, the latter having played one extra match.
The Chiefs need only one more point to wrap up the NZ Conference but need to beat both the Crusaders and Blues away to secure top seeding overall.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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