By EVAN PEGDEN - RugbyHeaven
Tuesday, 15 April 2008
It was a snapshot moment in a rollercoaster career - Sione Lauaki flattening All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw with a brutal fend that secured a World Cup spot for the Chiefs big No 8 last year.
Eleven months on and that rollercoaster appears to be tracking upward again toward the Chiefs' daunting Friday night Super 14 assignment against McCaw's unbeaten Crusaders at Waikato Stadium.
Lauaki and his Chiefs colleagues are coming off a bye but won three straight going into that week off and appear to be in the sort of form to again challenge the competition leaders in a bid to reach the semifinals for the first time in four years.
"I think we're slowly starting to hit our form. It's kind of been building up every week and this is going to be a really big test for us to see where we're at, especially coming from a bye and playing the Crusaders at home," Lauaki said.
Last year, the Chiefs won the equivalent match in Christchurch their last of the season 30-24 to end their season with five wins in a row and stop the Crusaders getting a home semi.
It was a dominant Chiefs pack that nailed it and within that pack Lauaki made some steamrolling runs but today he said all that was in the past.
"It's going to be game on, on Friday and hopefully we can get the outcome. We're really looking forward to the challenge. It's going to be a big weekend in the city with the V8s and hopefully a sell-out crowd. I guess the emotion will take care of itself and we've just come along, mentally and physically prepared."
Lauaki is the first to admit he trailed the pack in terms of fitness when he joined the Chiefs at the start of the year, having taken the full time off available to World Cup All Blacks, and it has taken a lot of hard work to get back to his on-field best.
"I came back late to the pre-season, because I took time off due to the All Blacks, and I had a bit of catching up to do. I've just got to have confidence in what I've done in the past, and keep my head down and keep working hard. But I feel more confident than I was four or five weeks ago. Personally, I just have to get my hands on the ball and grow that confidence."
Improvements in the tight five and everyone in the team doing their own job in recent weeks had helped him to do his job better and he was enjoying a steady scrum platform to work off.
Lauaki is also looking forward to locking horns with his old Kelston Boys' High schoolmate and Crusaders No8 Mose Tuiali'i, and said the pair had already exchanged text messages in the lead-in to the match. He believes the secret to beating the Crusaders is continuous attack, minimal turnovers and not sitting on a lead like they have several times this year a big ask against such a clever and efficient side.
"I reckon we've got to attack them and keep the ball away from them. When you're in the lead you can't rely on that lead but keep attacking them everywhere, because if you give the ball to them they can open you up anywhere. You just can't afford to take your foot off the pedal against them."