Taranaki has recruited a heavyweight to bolster its rather lean propping stocks.
Blues tighthead Angus Ta'avao has turned his back on Auckland in favour of spending the next two national provincial championship campaigns with Taranaki.
"I've been with Auckland the last few years and I've got no qualms with them or anything, it's just after last year, and a big Super Rugby campaign, I found going back to Auckland I was a bit too comfortable," the 23-year-old said.
"I didn't feel as fresh or as excited about ITM Cup as I probably would have liked and that sort of showed with the way I was playing, which wasn't as well as I would have liked. That was the first big thing, the fact I was looking for a bit of a change and somewhere that might refresh me."
At 1.94m and 126kg, the former New Zealand under-20 captain will bring some much needed size to a Taranaki front row that failed to impose itself on most opposition through a disappointing 2013 NPC campaign.
Into his third year with the Blues, Ta'avao has grown his game the more pressure he has been under.
That was especially evident last season when he took ownership of the No 3 jersey after All Black Charlie Faumuina tore a calf muscle.
With a similar frame to former All Blacks tighthead Carl Hayman, Ta'avao could prove invaluable with his lineout lifting, while he has also progressed his ball carrying over the past couple of seasons.
His arrival brings to two the number of props Taranaki has on its books, with Ryan Cocker also contracted. Fellow 2013 squad members Sione Lea and Carl Carmichael are yet to receive a contract, the latter opting to take his family back to their King Country farm in protest.
Ta'avao looked around before opting for Taranaki, a destination he was not too familiar with apart from a couple of visits to Yarrow Stadium.
"A huge part of my decision was who the people are down there and Taranaki were pretty keen on having me."
Some frank discussions with Kane Barrett and Jamison Gibson-Park also gave him confidence to sign and believe the side "would give it a good crack" and improve on last year's efforts.
"I thought their recruitment and the team they are starting to assemble for the next campaign looks pretty good."
Although he didn't say it, Taranaki coach Colin Cooper would have been surprised a player such Ta'avao became available on the domestic market. Usually it's the reverse, with players heading from the provinces to the Super Rugby bases, even under the current contracting model.
"We're pretty excited to have Angus join us this year," Cooper admitted.
"Angus is able to play on both sides of the scrum and has great tactical knowledge. This, combined with his size, makes him a real asset to the team."
As for the upcoming Super Rugby season, Ta'avao wants to play as much as he can, although he was mindful Faumuina would be ranked in front of him.
"It's my goal to be pushing the coaches as hard as I can so it's hard for them each week."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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