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Sky TV's Scotty Stevenson on rugby

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Veteran Latimer's drive embodies the character that defines the Chiefs.

Tanerau Latimer has played four Super Rugby finals and been on the winning side in three. Photo / Getty Images
Tanerau Latimer has played four Super Rugby finals and been on the winning side in three. Photo / Getty Images

Tanerau Latimer walks across the training field like a Maori cowboy (Hone Wayne?) who's spent seven days in the saddle.

Minutes earlier he was pushing himself to exhaustion on a machine the Chiefs have imported from the United States - and which could best be described as a treadmill with shoulder pads that the Devil designed.

When he walks, his wide-set shoulders move first, compensating for the fact that his Achilles tendons started protesting years ago and now refuse to function without some form of upper-body coercion.

As always, he was the first one in the gym, which, as always, meant the second guy there stayed away from him until the Chiefs' veteran had taken a chance to have his morning coffee.

When you're known as the team's Koro, you're entitled to have your grumpy moments.

Latimers are rare, but everyone in the team knows you don't bother him before he's caffeinated.

There are other things you don't do around Tanerau Dylan Latimer. You don't give up on a footy field, you don't let your teammates down, and you don't, under any circumstances, muck about on the training pitch.

After eight and a half seasons of Super rugby, you could forgive him for having high standards.

You could also have forgiven him for moving on long ago, when the All Blacks' door shut behind him at the end of 2009, or when his Bay of Plenty teammate and current All Black Sam Cane arrived at the Chiefs a year later.

But Latimer stayed, and started in the last two Super rugby finals and tackled his heart out in both of them, adding two more titles to the one he claimed in 2006 with the Crusaders.

That's three titles from four finals - there aren't many left in the game who can claim that hit rate.

Talk to anyone at the Chiefs and they'll all say the same thing: "He doesn't say much."

They're right. Some guys - guys like Latimer - don't have to. I can't remember an interview I've ever conducted with him when he has minced his words or laboured a point. I can't remember an interview I've conducted with him when he has left any room for ambiguity.

Then again, I can't remember a game he has played when he's left any gas in the tank.

Teams often talk about culture. At the Chiefs, they talk about character. Wayne Smith understands just how much Tanerau Latimer embodies the character this team has sought to build on, and to refine.

Smith stands in the Hamilton sunshine in his trademark track pants and talks of how many leaders the team has lost in recent seasons - Craig Clarke, Richard Kahui, Lelia Masaga, Brendon Leonard, Stephen Donald - team men, Chiefs men. He knows Latimer is a constant, a touchstone for every young player coming to grips with the expectations placed upon them.

Unlike Masaga, Latimer doesn't walk around HQ making teammates laugh by being a complete pest. Unlike Kahui, he's not the life and soul of the party. Unlike Donald, he's unlikely to be the subject of a television movie. Unlike Leonard, he still has plenty of hair.

But in many ways he's just like Clarke, without the extra burden of the captain's armband; a quiet man who leads by deed and doesn't need to be called the skipper to know he's helping to steer the ship.

In the back corner of the Ruakura training ground, by the weatherbeaten garages that border the railway line, Latimer sits on an old plastic chair and takes calls from the media while his teammates talk about him.

Try as they might, they have nothing on him. There are no incriminating stories, no memories of practical jokes, no embarrassing moments. It was all adulation and respect. How disappointing.

I thought about it, though, later that day as a passenger on the drive back to Auckland from Hamilton.

I suspect there were plenty of those stories to tell, it's just that no one thought it appropriate to tell them, such is their regard for him.

I thought, too, of the mezzanine wall above the Chiefs gymnasium, separating the coaches' offices from the weights and the sweat and the noise below.

And I thought of those photos of all the Chiefs who had passed the 50-match mark, and the one that sits above that row - the one of the club's only 100-game player, Liam Messam.

And I thought of the space on the wall beside it, with just enough room for one more photo, the one of Messam's teammate - his brother - Tanerau "Koro" Latimer.

Then I smiled and drifted off to sleep, as the Waikato River rolled on and on.

Slim pickings coming home

It is a huge ask for a Super Rugby side to cross an ocean and get themselves up the very next week. That's what the Crusaders will be asked to do this weekend in the Tron, but here's some sobering reading for their fans: only two teams, the Blues and Chiefs, have this season managed to win the week after an intercontinental tour. The Cheetahs managed a draw while the Stormers, Hurricanes, Reds and Waratahs all were defeated.

Motivation for Ma'a

To appropriate some management language from the Warriors, since Ma'a Nonu "left" the Hurricanes he has never tasted Super Rugby success against them. In fact, he hasn't faced his former team since 2012, when the Blues were defeated in both conference matches. He did not take the field for the Highlanders against the Canes last season. Something tells me the Nonu-Alapati Leiua matchup could be well worth the watch.

Chiefs' lesson for England

They are the two-time defending champions and it seems even England coach Stuart Lancaster is impressed with the Chiefs. A source close to the England side told this column that Lancaster has looked closely at the way the Chiefs are able to change gears in-game - something they did effectively in last year's final, and something he will be keen for his team to emulate when they play the All Blacks at home in the June series.

- NZ Herald

Scotty Stevenson

Sky TV's Scotty Stevenson on rugby

Scotty Stevenson is a Sky TV commentator and Editor of SKY Sport - The Magazine

Read more by Scotty Stevenson

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