To fix Rene Ranger's faulty and bulging spinal disc which was pressing on a nerve and limiting the strength in an arm and shoulder, surgeons in May last year replaced it with a small metal cage, a titanium plate and screws.

While it's a fairly routine operation these days for top athletes, the reality is that it's a major surgery with an ever-present risk factor.

Ranger quickly wanted to get back into the gym to work on his fitness but was advised against it, so the recovery process was long and frustrating.

He was ruled out of the ITM Cup - the former Northland player was to represent North Harbour - so it's hardly surprising his form hasn't been quite where he would like it to be at this stage of the season.


So, after being left out of the Blues match-day squad for the draw against the Reds in Brisbane following his return from France, and subsequent time in hospital, Ranger was keen to prove a point in the 24-16 victory over the Jaguares at QBE North Harbour Stadium last weekend.

That he did so the hardest way - with a couple of turnovers with his shaggy head in a very compromising position - is testament to his bravery and determination to make that No13 jersey his own. Later, he made the break and gave the assist - while lying on his back - which sent Ihaia West scampering in for his try.

Reflecting on his form ahead of a crunch derby against the Chiefs in Hamilton tonight, Ranger appeared satisfied that his point had been made to Tana Umaga - as the coach admitted after the game - but said there was a lot still to do.

"It has been a slow start," he said. "I guess I'm still trying to build confidence and rhythm at Super Rugby level. It doesn't happen overnight. There are still things I want to work on. I probably haven't been playing to my full potential.

You have to keep playing well because no one is really safe in this team at the moment.


"I've been out of the game for so long, I just want to keep playing. You have to keep playing well because no one is really safe in this team at the moment.

"It's been difficult getting back to the speed of Super level, it's a higher intensity. I knew I wouldn't be able to just step in.

"I was gutted to miss ITM Cup - I wanted to use that as a building phase for Super Rugby but with the injury being a slow recovery, it has put everything back."

Umaga, a former All Black who also made the move from wing to centre, put the 29-year-old Ranger on notice when not taking him to Suncorp Stadium. It's a scrutiny fullback Lolagi Visinia and wing Tevita Li haven't had to endure even after some high-profile recent mistakes, but Ranger feels Umaga is a fair coach despite an occasionally ruthless nature.

"When he puts his foot down, he puts it down. The boys respond a bit better when he's hard on us, but off the field, he's a good fella."

The Chiefs, meanwhile, have been travelling extremely well apart from a blip at home against the Lions, and second-five Charlie Ngatai, who is putting his hand up for All Black inclusion, will inevitably be in the sights of Ranger, who also has designs on returning to the national team.

"The Chiefs are playing great footy. They're getting the luck of the bounce, they're getting a bit of everything. They're riding high, but for us, it's trusting in each other that our game plan is going to fulfil itself.

"Yes, we had a win and the boys are up but it's not an easy job going to Hamilton and fronting against a top side like the Chiefs."

Ranger said Ngatai was playing "brave footy", but, all things considered, few are playing as bravely as he is.