Rugby: Slow start but Fia finding form now

Highlanders prop Ma'afu Fia runs at training at Logan Park yesterday. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Highlanders prop Ma'afu Fia runs at training at Logan Park yesterday. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Ma'afu Fia just keeps battling away.

The Tongan native is not one of the stars of the Highlanders show.

He has played more than 30 games for the Highlanders in the past three seasons and is yet to score a try.

He came close to breaking the duck last Friday night when he was stopped right on the line early on in the match against the Hurricanes.

Fia, who was born in Tonga but came to New Zealand with his family in 2001, admits it has taken him a long time to find form this year, and the scars of last year, after a disappointing season, took a while to get over.

''Last season was a bit of a let-down, just how we went as a team and I found it just went to me personally as well ... It took me a while to find my feet again.

''I didn't have the best ITM Cup season after that and come the pre-season it was looking good but I had a few bad games in the pre-season and that knocked me back a little bit.

''I just had to reevaluate what I had to do. I had a talk with the coaches to see what I had to do. I had to get a wee bit fitter and change the way I play.''

In years gone by, tighthead props such as Fia had a pretty brief job description - hold up the scrum.

But with scrum rules changing and the pace of the game getting quicker, props now have to become more well-rounded.

''You have to get round the field. Previously, I was just a set-piece sort of player. Just scrum to scrum. I would do my bit here and there round the field. But with the way the game is going you have to really get round the field.''

He had lost about 7kg since the start of the season, putting in some extra training to shed the extra kilograms.

''I had a lot of time with the trainer ... but it worked.''

Fia (24), who has four sisters, felt his form was coming along but it was hard to get past Chris King and Kane Hames into the starting side as the duo were both playing well.

Fia said the new scrum rules had made it harder for the tighthead prop, exposing him more and taking away the hit.

''There is a not a lot of difference I suppose once you get used to it. But there is a lot more emphasis now on the back five and what they are doing.''

When he is not in Dunedin he resides in Palmerston North and has just signed on with the Manawatu union for the next two seasons. His contract with the Highlanders comes to an end this year but he is s keen to continue.

He went to school with the likes of Aaron Cruden, Andre Taylor and Kurt Baker.

Fia said representing Tonga was a possibility but he was not rushing into measuring up for the red jersey of the kingdom.

''I will see how it is after the Super rugby season and see how my form is. The World Cup is just around the corner and that is what it is all about really. I haven't been officially approached but you hear things. The All Blacks are still there but there is a lot of competition at the moment.''


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