Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Blues prop Pauliasi Manu a gold-plated signing for Umaga

Pauliasi Manu, pictured during pre-season training, will make his sixth start in six matches for the Blues against the Force. Photo / Photosport
Pauliasi Manu, pictured during pre-season training, will make his sixth start in six matches for the Blues against the Force. Photo / Photosport

Pauliasi Manu doesn't know where is World Cup medal is.

"I have no idea," he told the Herald. "I think mum's got it somewhere. Or it might be in Tonga somewhere. I always give my achievements to her - my jerseys and so on."

That the now Blues prop Manu earned the medal despite not playing a match for the All Blacks at the 2015 tournament might have something to do with his relaxed attitude to his memento, but the affable 29-year-old has generally taken the road less travelled (and yes, he is pretty sure his mum Sia has it).

Called up as a World Cup injury replacement for Wyatt Crockett, Manu flew to England in case he was needed for the grand final, trained by himself until Crockett was ruled out with a groin injury, and in the end wasn't required for the match-day 23.

He still got a medal, though, plus one heck of an experience.

"It was a phone-call-today-fly-tomorrow kind of thing," he said. "We had just finished ITM Cup at Counties. I had a couple of beers with the boys and I had to shoot off the next day. It was a good experience - to be a part of the winning team was awesome."

Manu, back at the Blues via a circuitous route that took in, briefly, the Melbourne Rebels and four years at the Chiefs, will start his sixth match for Tana Umaga's team tomorrow when he takes the field against the Force at Eden Park.

It has been an interesting journey. Before joining Dave Rennie's Chiefs, he was delisted by previous Blues coach John Kirwan after the 2012 season, signed a two-year deal with the Rebels, travelled to Melbourne and then failed the medical.

"I had a small disc bulge in my neck," he said. "They said 'it can get worse and we're not going to risk you playing unless you deal with it'. The options were to terminate my contract or rehab it or surgery. I said 'leave it as it is' and I came back to work to my old building job but then the Chiefs rang me up - they were my lifeline."

Manu was back in his work boots and hard hat for only a week before the Chiefs came calling as a replacement for Josh Hohneck. Manu joined them just before pre-season in 2013 and spent the next four seasons there, his neck issue that so concerned the Rebels not an issue then or now.

He considers his return to the Blues that of a homecoming. Manu went to school at Tamaki College and his family is based in Auckland, so there is a support network for Manu and his partner and their 13-month-old daughter.

Manu has been in impressive form, as his six starts in six matches suggest - both in the set piece and as a ball carrier and defender.

With front row teammates such as Charlie Faumuina, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Sam Prattley and Sione Mafileo, the Blues could have a case for having the quickest props in the competition, and Manu is also a fast healer. He ruptured his Achilles while playing for the Chiefs 12 months ago and was back playing again for Counties after only five months.

"I got told it would take 9 to 12 months before I could think about playing again. But I got back running in four months and played a month after that. It was a fast process."

After his Rebels experience, Manu knows how lucky he is to still be playing at this level.

And now that he is back home, there isn't a team or a coach he would rather play for. "He [Umaga] is a guy who has just finished his [playing] career. He knows what it takes to be a player."

Blues team to play Force at Eden Park tomorrow (Saturday), kick-off 5.15pm is: Michael Collins, Matt Duffie, George Moala, TJ Faiane, Melani Nanai, Piers Francis, Augustine Pulu, Jerome Kaino, Murphy Taramai, Jimmy Tupou, Patrick Tuipulotu, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Charlie Faumuina, James Parsons (c), Pauliasi Manu. Reserves: Matt Moulds, Ofa Tu'ungafasi or Sam Prattley, Sione Mafileo, Scott Scrafton, Akira Ioane, Billy Guyton, Ihaia West, Rieko Ioane.

Force: Dane Haylett-Petty, Chance Peni, Marcel Brache, Billy Meakes, Alex Newsome, Jono Lance (c), Ryan Louwrens, Isi Naisarani, Matt Hodgson, Ross Haylett-Petty, Richie Arnold, Matt Philip, Tetera Faulkner, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Ben Daley. Reserves: Anaru Rangi, Pek Cowan, Shambeckler Vui, Richard Hardwick, Kane Koteka, Michael Ruru, Ian Prior, Robbie Coleman.

- NZ Herald

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