Tough old dog still has something to offer
Former All Black Ross Filipo says at 34 his days of moonlighting as a No 8 are over, but there's plenty of life in the "old dog" yet.
The versatile 1.98m Chiefs forward who this year is being looked at more as a lock, where he played his last All Blacks test nearly six years ago, says he is not here to make up the numbers and will challenge hard for a starting second-row berth left vacant by departed co-captain Craig Clarke.
Filipo played four tests for the All Blacks in 2007-08 while he was regularly starting for the Crusaders at lock.
The Wellington forward has played in France and England since then before returning to New Zealand rugby with the Chiefs and is very conscious he is in the twilight of his career and anxious not to overstay his welcome.
Filipo sees the chance to start at lock as a huge opportunity but realises he has to head off some quality young players for the spot, including Mike Fitzgerald and Matt Symons.
"There are a few of us competing for it and the standard of the guys' work output has been really high so I'm just trying to keep up with those younger boys and hopefully at training put my hand up to secure a spot.
"But I'm pretty happy to still be playing to be fair, so I'm excited about the opportunity, but whoever takes the spot I'll support 100 per cent."
Filipo is fit and healthy and hopes to remain so this time.
"I'm coming in hot, mate," Filipo laughed.
He currently weighs 115kg after being pushed hard by team trainers and said his ideal playing weight at lock was between 112kg and 114kg.
"I'm a work in progress and I'm always keeping an eye on [the younger players'] speed times and what they're lifting and stuff like that, but obviously I'm at a different end of the spectrum to them and sometimes the constant battering catches up with me so I have to have an extra day's rest. But all in all I'm pretty happy with how I've been tracking."
It is a long time since Filipo played lock for the Crusaders and All Blacks but he said the memories were still vivid.
"When you sit there and look back over it it feels like it was yesterday, but when you look at the dates it's actually quite a long time ago.
"Someone said to me once you snap your fingers your career's over so you just try to enjoy it and I'm glad that I'm fortunate enough to still be playing at the age that I'm at."
But he's not in it for a free ride.
"I don't want to be that guy that's playing inadequately at this level and still getting contracts. I still want to be playing well and earning my position.
"When I don't feel I'm doing that anymore then I'll probably pull the pin, or if the body gives up first, but I feel like I've still got a lot of good rugby left in me and I'm pretty motivated to play and still be successful.
"It is a young man's game but it's still tough to come up against us old tough dogs."
Filipo was first signed by the Chiefs last season as a loose forward/lock and after being in the hunt for a starting No 8 role went through a frustrating time out with a knee injury before being unable to force his way back in, once returning to fitness, as the Chiefs went on their title run at the back end of the season.
"It was difficult because I felt like I'd got down to my desired weight and had all my fitness where it needed to be to play loose forward and then sustaining a knee injury put everything on the back foot.
"Then when I came back it was quite difficult to get into the team because [they] had a really good groove on and I probably played in one of the worst games of the season against the Crusaders down there, which unfortunately didn't really help my cause."
But don't write him off just yet.