Afeaki awe­some role model for for­wards

Weekend Herald - - Rugby - Pa­trick McKendry

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

Pic­ture / Photosport

Ben Afeaki is the new Blues scrum coach.

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