Experienced Hurricanes lock Jason Eaton has a word of advice for his junior charges ahead of next month's Super Rugby pre-season game against the Chiefs in Mangatainoka.
Eaton, who has 78 caps for the Hurricanes and played a big role in the leadership of the team during the 2012 season as well as starting all but one match, says preparation is key. He is encouraging the team's seven Super Rugby debutants to make the most of every opportunity when they take on the defending champions at the Mangatainoka RFC - next to Tui Brewery - on Saturday, February 16.
"Whether they play 10 minutes here or there in a pre-season game, they have to make sure their intensity is at 100 per cent and they stick to their own game as that's why they were selected," he says.
The Tui Brewery-organised game will be the Hurricanes final pre-season hit-out before their campaign begins proper the next weekend when they take on the Blues. Eaton says it will be a good opportunity to play different combinations and run through game plans the team wants to carry on through the season. Personally though, Eaton has his own things to focus on.
"For me, I will be focusing on my match fitness, working on our lineout combinations and calls, and basically getting my core roles right to make it easier for the guys around me, especially the newer guys," he says.
Eaton is also looking forward to returning to the heartland after having played the previous two pre-season games at Mangatainoka (Chiefs 2011, Crusaders 2012).
"I'm really looking forward to heading back to Mangatainoka. The support we get there is huge and gives the team a big boost in our pre-season campaign."
Eaton, who attended Feilding Intermediate and Palmerston North Boys' High School, is no stranger to heartland rugby, having made his provincial debut for Manawatu in 2002, before transferring to Taranaki in 2004. After making his Taranaki provincial debut against the British and Irish Lions in 2005, he was picked to tour with the All Blacks on their successful Grand Slam tour of November 2005. The now 30-year-old has gone from strength to strength, despite battling a serious knee injury in 2007 and 2010.
In September 2011, he was named the Taranaki Player of the Year and, last season, was one of seven players from the region to commit to the Hurricanes. The others are Beauden Barrett, James Broadhurst, James Marshall, Chris Smylie, Andre Taylor and Blade Thomson while Taranaki players in the Chiefs squad include Craig Clarke and Rhys Marshall.
"The Chiefs were the standout New Zealand franchise last year so we are excited to take them on in Mangatainoka. Our last minute win over them in the final round of the 2012 season was a real high for the Canes so we know they will be eager to get one over us here," says Eaton.