Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Chiefs fight not Toulouse Big Ben

Ben Tameifuna could earn big money in France and play for Tonga at the World Cupbut would have to give up his All Black dream. Photo / Getty Images
Ben Tameifuna could earn big money in France and play for Tonga at the World Cupbut would have to give up his All Black dream. Photo / Getty Images

Big Ben Tameifuna has a big decision to make - stay with the Chiefs or sign with Toulouse and most likely commit to playing for Tonga at next year's World Cup.

It's the usual story of the foreign predator being able to put a huge deal on the table (it could be in the vicinity of €500,000 to €600,000 a year) with the Chiefs and New Zealand Rugby Union doing what they can to counterbalance with a combination of money and opportunity.

It's the usual story of a young man who has had a peek at a black jersey having to work out if he has what it takes to mount another surge to the summit or whether he's gone as far as he can here and should take the offshore lootwhile it's on offer.

And, it's now what appears to have become the usual story of a Pacific Islands-eligible player uncertain about his fate if he decides to stay in New Zealand but commits to Tonga.

He's not alone in his predicament. The Pacific Island sides are looking for commitment ahead of the June tests and will be actively recruiting all year in the hope they can strengthen ahead of the World Cup.

The All Blacks are doing much the same. They are conscious they don't want to lose too many of their critical middle tier - those players who may be only an injury or two away from the national side.

It's a tough choice for Tameifuna, as it is for Lima Sopoaga, Tim Nanai-Williams, Pauliasi Manu, Nasi Manu, Peter Saili and George Moala. All of themhave sloggeditout at Super Rugby, given everything.

A few of them - Tameifuna in particular but also Nanai-Williams - have come close to the big time. Sopoaga, should Dan Carter move on after the World Cup, would probably be one injury to someone else away from a call-up.

It's tempting to stay on and see . . . but Tonga are knocking on the door now for Tameifuna. He has the hope of an All Black place against the virtual guarantee of a reasonably long career with the country of his birth.

"We are reasonably confident Ben will commit with us,"Chiefs chief executive Andrew Flexman said. "The All Blacks have made it clear he is a player of some interest to them a year or so out from the World Cup and he's been given specific performance objectives. Ben has indicated his dream is still to wear the black jersey."

Tameifuna has been in an All Black squad - he was picked in 2012 for the June series but didn't take the field - which means his eligibility has not been captured.

He's only 23 and the national body feel Tameifuna has the potential to become a regular All Black. He has a strong technical grasp of his core skills, contributes with an explosive leg drive in the carry and has incredibly soft hands for such a big man (1.84m and 137kg). He underlined that ability with two tries for the Chiefs in their win over the Blues in New Plymouth on Friday night.

But the big question is whether Tameifuna can get himself fit enough to play at the highest level. If he can meet the targets he's been set around his weight and fitness, he's a good bet to win All Black caps.

The situation is not so clear for the likes of Nanai-Williams, Sopoaga, Saili and the two Manus. Their All Black prospects aren't so good because all of them have several players ahead of them in their positions.

The temptation to play for one of the Island nations is likely to be strong but, if they do that, they run the risk of jeopardising their Super Rugby contracts.

- Herald on Sunday

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n6 at 22 Aug 2014 10:11:34 Processing Time: 753ms