Highlanders set Toma's career flying

By Peter White

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Bay of Plenty halfback Te Aihe Toma.
Bay of Plenty halfback Te Aihe Toma.

Sometimes the sporting stars align to create a career-changing opportunity.

For Bay of Plenty halfback Te Aihe Toma it happened this week.

The likeable 23-year-old went from guiding his Te Puna team to a club victory last Saturday to a starring role on debut for the Highlanders in the 40-12 win over the Crusaders on Thursday.

That performance was rewarded with selection in the Highlanders squad that flew out this morning to South Africa, with a trip to Buenos Aires to follow.

Toma says thinking about going to those places rather than playing Rangataua today at Maungatapu is taking some getting used to.

"I may not be back in New Zealand for three or four weeks.

It is funny, I am playing club rugby one week then Super Rugby the next for the greatest franchise in New Zealand," he said.

Highlanders assistant coach Tony Brown called him into the team to play the Crusaders after a sequence of unexpected problems to their halfback stocks.

"I played club last Saturday then got the call from Tony Brown and flew down Sunday," Toma said.

"Josh Renton suffered an ACL injury, Fumiaki Tanaka dislocated his shoulder playing for Japan, which obviously brought me forward, and Aaron Smith is with the All Blacks.

"They had to bring in another halfback, Jamie Booth, so it was just the two of us with the team."

Toma enjoyed his 60 minutes running behind a strong Highlanders pack in the Oamaru mud.

"It went pretty well. I was just amazed to be out there and I just focused on my job," he said.

"I knew if I did my job right then the rest will come, like the cheeky wee try I got at the end [of the first half], that summed up the game pretty well for me.

"Defence played a big part for our team I believe.

We came up and made dominant tackles and drove them back which obviously forced turnovers and we countered from that."

Toma says his call-up was not totally unexpected as the Highlanders have been monitoring him for two seasons.

"Tony Brown called me last year before we [Steamers] played Otago. He said he was watching me and that I had been playing well and to just keep going," Toma said.

"I could have possibly got a wider contract for the Highlanders this year.

"It is a big step for me and it is awesome to get this opportunity.

"It will impact leading into the (Mitre 10 Cup) and hopefully securing theNo9 jersey for the Steamers."

Toma is not sure what the future holds but he is making the most of every moment he has with the Highlanders.

"I am taking it step by step. If I get on the field, great, but it is all about doing my best and improving every week, impressing the coaches and just getting better as a player really."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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