Little-known flanker faces huge challenge

SUBSTITUTE SEVEN: Tevita Koloamatangi is ready to step into the boots of Sam Cane and Tanerau Latimer against the Crusaders.
SUBSTITUTE SEVEN: Tevita Koloamatangi is ready to step into the boots of Sam Cane and Tanerau Latimer against the Crusaders.

Tevita Koloamatangi might be a big name but, while not a familiar one to Chiefs fans, it is one they will hear a lot more of on Friday night.

The 25-year-old Nelson loose forward was recruited by the Chiefs' coaches for their wider training group after a standout season for the impressive Tasman side in the national provincial championship.

Now he is needed in the front line after injuries to All Black No 7s Sam Cane and Tanerau Latimer.

Koloamatangi's lack of experience at Super Rugby level and a couple of pre-season injuries kept him under the radar early on, and a start in the opening game of the season against the Crusaders was far from his mind.

Suddenly, both Cane and Latimer are sidelined by injury and Koloamatangi, 25, is getting ready to take on the seven-time champions and All Black captain Richie McCaw in Christchurch on Friday night.

"I'm really rapt," Koloamatangi said. "It's a great opportunity to show my talent up against the best, supposedly, team in Super Rugby and I just need to take it with two hands and go with it."

Fifty minutes against the Blues in the final trial in Rotorua on Friday certainly helped his preparation, considering his time on the sideline after rolling an ankle in a yo-yo test on the first day of pre-season training before Christmas then straining a medial cruciate ligament in his knee early in the new year.

It meant last week was his first real hit-out but the hard conditioning work done off the field - in the form of boxing, grinding, rowing and biking - stood him in good stead and has left him feeling ready to go.

"That's really helped me go into this weekend confidently."

The loose forwards around him such as Liam Messam and Kane Thompson, as well as Latimer, had all been of enormous help as well.

Koloamatangi has played for Tasman for the past four seasons and has lived in Nelson since he was 9, having been born - "sadly" he says - in Auckland.

Originally, he was a specialist openside flanker but, with Maori All Black Shane Christie becoming the Tasman No 7, he found himself being used increasingly at both No 6 and No 8.

"Christie is a really top-class player down there and I had to change my position to accommodate him, really.

"Now that I've played mostly six and eight the past few years, they are all sort of similar to me even though they are all quite different.

"I enjoy eight sometimes because there's a lot of space for me while six and seven are more engaging but I enjoy all three."

Koloamatangi said it meant a lot to him to picked up by the back-to-back champions for their wider training group and a fantastic culture in the Chiefs meant anyone from anywhere could fit in.

His time here had boosted his confidence considerably.

"The Chiefs develop you to really showcase your talent and not leave anything out there - don't be scared to show your stuff out there. They really coach that well here and let players express themselves."

Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie said the team medics were hopeful Cane's knee ligament injury would keep him out for closer to three weeks than four, meaning he would miss the first two matches before the first bye and might be available for the Stormers match in Hamilton on March 14.

The overall injury situation was improving, he said.

"We were missing 19 against the Reds, were only missing 13 last week and all things going well we'll be less than that going into the Crusaders.

"But we've got good depth and injuries mean an opportunity for someone else, which is exciting for them."

With 100 All Black tests and more than 100 Super Rugby games behind him, returning fullback/centre Mils Muliaina is likely to be available for selection this week, and Rennie is still hopeful at least one of the injured midfield pair of Charlie Ngatai and Andrew Horrell will be passed fit.

Waikato Times