Afeaki awesome role model for forwards
As the Blues’ new scrum coach, Ben Afeaki has much to teach his forwards about the intricacies of the set piece but, just as importantly, there are probably fewer better role models for the team in terms of the importance of taking concussion seriously.
Former Chiefs prop Afeaki, who played a test for the All Blacks in 2013, was forced to quit the game for good in 2015 as a result of concussion.
He was about to play that year after big problems in 2014 but a last meeting with a specialist put paid to that — a good thing too because even now, more than three years after his last game, he still has symptoms.
“I still get a bit foggy,” Afeaki said yesterday after the Blues announced him in his new role.
“I have to manage my time at work. If I overdo it I battle for a couple of days — the normal symptoms; fatigue. I don’t get headaches, which is good, but I still get that fogginess and drowsiness. It’s all about management for me. If I can manage it well I can normally get through a lot of things.”
Afeaki added of his final appointment with the doctor before his expected return to play: “I just hadn’t recovered enough. Obviously I made the right decision [ to retire] because three years down the track I’m still having problems.
“Obviously it was hard but it’s good to move on and now it’s awesome to be back in the rugby scene.”
Afeaki, who helped out at North Harbour in their Mitre 10 Cup campaign this year, had no great ambitions to coach the Blues — expecting instead to settle back into his scaffolding business before coach Tana Umaga’s surprise call.
“When Tana caught up I was a bit shocked. I was pretty honest with him and said ‘ I don’t know if I’m up for it’. I had a think about it and thought ‘ what a great opportunity’. It’s awesome to be involved in a region that I grew up in.
“I never planned to be a coach or get on to this pathway. With Harbour I just did it to help out . . . I guess I didn’t back myself as much as I should have. Once I thought about it I realised this is what I’ve done for the last 10 years of my life and that I’ve got as much experience as a lot of coaches.” So now Afeaki is getting to grips with a pack who acquitted themselves fairly well last season. And included in their mix is Ofa Tu’ungafasi, who All Blacks coach Steve Hansen recently described as one of the best tightheads in the world.
“We’ve got a lot of talent,” Afeaki said. “We’ve got a great chance of contesting. They are all very keen and there’s a lot of good feeling in the environment. Once we get the preseason over we’ll focus on technical scrummaging.
“Their attitudes are good — it should be a good year.”
I still get a bit foggy. I have to manage my time at work. If I overdo it I battle for a couple of days — the normal symptoms; fatigue. Ben Afeaki
Ben Afeaki is the new Blues scrum coach.