Ben Tameifuna wasn't sure it was for him when the Chiefs' coaches suggested he give boxing a go through Fight for Life.
They wanted him to change up his pre-season training and saw preparing for a boxing bout on December 14 against Australian rugby league star Sam Thaiday as a way of giving him a new challenge for early summer.
With no boxing experience, he thought about it for a week before saying yes.
"At first I was just real nervous, but I've taken the attitude we have here in the Chiefs that we stand up for a challenge and I see it as the coaches laying the challenge down and this is my way of saying ‘yep' I'll take it on," Tameifuna, 22, said.
"Next minute a contract was put together and then I was down at Ringside with Rik Ellis pinging the pads."
At 140kg the powerhouse young prop will have a sizeable weight advantage over the rugged 115kg 28-year-old Thaiday, but certainly not experience.
"I've never boxed before, apart from a bit for fitness with the team - certainly nothing involving another boxer trying to come at me."
He sees it as another step in his bid to become an All Black by getting fitter and tacks the boxing training on to the Chiefs' regular training at the end of the day, heading to the Ringside gym in the evenings. There it has been all about getting used to the confines of the ring and having another fighter punch him.
He found the training tough on his body at first but admits he is now starting to enjoy it as he learns the finer points of the sport and can't wait till December 14.
"Who knows I might put my hand up again next year if it goes well.
"Liam is back today or tomorrow so he will be my next sparring partner as the last one got injured," he said.
After a solid national provincial championship season with Waikato, two weeks' break and now five weeks of boxing training behind him, Tameifuna is in much better shape than he was this time last year when an operation on his nose to help his breathing set him back after a well-publicised disastrous NPC campaign with Hawke's Bay.
"It's good to be back with the boys in the Chiefs and I'm really enjoying it.
"I feel I'm fitter than I was this time last year, my plans are clear to win another championship with the good bunch of guys here and it's just a matter of doing the hard yards now that hopefully will pay off."
Tameifuna wants to be an All Black after last year getting a taste as part of a training squad.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has said the big tighthead needs to get himself to a point where he can last games rather than always having to be subbed early in the second spell.
"It's about me making that first move to get across the line and that's why I agreed to do the boxing and start the fitness work earlier. I'm also watching my diet as like any other sport you have to watch what you put in your mouth."
Chiefs forwards coach Tom Coventry, who has been a mentor for Tameifuna since the player was at school in Hawke's Bay, has no doubt the player is good enough to be an All Black.
"Without a doubt," said Coventry. "He's a talented boy. He's strong, he's good on his feet, for a big man he is very agile, he can pass and catch both sides just about as well as any of our backs and the obvious thing is he just needs to be able to do more of that."
It was a case of his "numbers" in terms of hitting rucks, running with the ball and making tackles needing to get higher and that meant getting fitter and therefore more mobile so that he could get closer to the 50 rucks a game lock Brodie Retallick hits rather than his own current stats that were less than half that.
"He's definitely got the ability. The raw ability is there and he was picked in the All Blacks training squad a year and a half ago because of that talent and he's just got to get the bit between his teeth and make that happen for himself.
"He's got plenty of people willing him to be there, he's just got to have that desire to get there himself."
And the coach is backing the player to benefit from the boxing training.
"It's just a way of keeping him interested and keeping him fit. It's just another conditioning method.
"It's something he's found interesting and invigorating. He gets down to the gym at Ringside and finds it pretty enjoyable, so anything we can hook him into that is going to do better for the team and himself is good."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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