Rugby: Fatialofa to be fitted for his blazer

By Campbell Burnes

Several Auckland players will be getting fitted in the next week for their blazers.

Among them will be lock Michael Fatialofa, an Auckland boy who spent four, often injury-plagued seasons learning his trade for Southland before returning home to play the 2015 season. The 23-year-old will suit up, off the bench, for his 13th game for the union in tomorrow night's clash with his old Stags team. All going well, he will play his blazer (14th) match next Wednesday in Napier against Hawke's Bay.

Fatialofa will be joined at the tailor's by the likes of halfback Leon Fukofuka, and loose forwards Taleni Seu and Akira Ioane, all closing in on the milestone.

This 2016 season has been a breakout one for Fatialofa, having played no less than 15 games and 986 minutes for the champion Hurricanes. It was rather more game time than he expected and he impressed all and sundry with his work.

"I was stoked to even get a cap for the Hurricanes. I went down there not knowing if I would get an opportunity. To end up playing most of the games and starting in the finals was a big achievement for me. I enjoyed playing with those boys, guys like Dane Coles and Victor Vito," says the Ponsonby second-rower, who has two more seasons to run on his Hurricanes contract.

In theory, he should be the No 1 lock for Auckland, though they are in the enviable position of having four Super Rugby second-rowers from which to draw, including All Black Patrick Tuipulotu. Throw in the fact that Taleni Seu and Steven Luatua can also slip into the second row and it is clear Auckland has extraordinary depth in that area.

Fatialofa says Auckland and the Hurricanes have similar athletes who carry well, meaning the style of play between the two teams is not dissimilar.

His assimilation back into Auckland's playing group was a varied one. He came off the pine in the heavy loss in Christchurch and then sat out the win over Northland last Friday before being reintroduced off the bench for tomorrow night's clash.

"Skinny (Auckland coach Nick White) and I talked about coming back early for that Canterbury game and then let me have a week off because the body was a bit beaten up. In the long run, that would be beneficial for me. I feel fresh this week," Fatialofa says.

More than anyone in the team, he knows what's coming in Invercargill and his Auckland debut came in the 23-all draw which kicked off last season's ITM Cup.

"Southland in Invercargill are always tough to beat. When I was playing for them (2011-14, 36 games), we always knew that North Island teams would hate playing in the conditions. At 7.35pm it's always a shock running out into that rain and wind."

So that will mean Auckland are wary, not to mention still getting their heads around the new breakdown laws.

The 'storm week' is also almost upon Auckland, with three games in nine days, but Fatialofa and the players themselves don't mind it. After all, they enjoy playing more than training.

The Stags game will not be the only rugby that Fatialofa is focusing on tomorrow.

Six years ago he captained the MAGS First XV to the national Top 4 title and tomorrow afternoon his old school returns to the nationals as one of the favourites, along with Hastings BHS. MAGS play a semifinal against Southland BHS.

In 2010 a MAGS unit featuring the likes of Mitre 10 Cup players Alex Hodgman, Michael Faleafa and Gafatasi Sua racked up a 17-0 record on the way to glory. The 2016 MAGS side have dropped just one game. Their coach Geoff Moon doubles as the Auckland assistant coach.

"I know a few of the Southland BHS boys from when I was down there. Peter Skelt used to coach me down there. He will have something up his sleeve for MAGS, but I'm sure MAGS will be too big and too strong for them!" says Fatialofa.

"They were good times back then."

Fatialofa hopes the good times will roll at about 9.15pm tomorrow.

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