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Ainley, at 33, was a latecomer to Super rugby. He got the call-up last year from the Highlanders and shifted south with his wife and three kids.
But a calf niggle got in the way of his pre-season, some quality locks were ahead of him and then, just over a month into the season, not having played a game of Super rugby, he broke his jaw playing club rugby.
''It was my team-mate actually. I went into a tackle and he came in from the side and hit me. I knew something had gone straight away, '' Ainley said.
''That was about five or six games into the season and when that happened they said that is another six to eight. So I thought that is me done for the year.
''I just kept training. I could still do the gym, and apart from the first two weeks, I could run.''
Ainley was busting his gut to try to get back on the field but a three-week trip to South Africa looked a bridge too far for the Tasman man.
''Jamie [coach Jamie Joseph] had said to me if you can't play that first game then I probably can't take you. So I talked to the doctors and they said I won't be right for the first game ... but I got the call-up anyway and there I was.''
Ainley finally made his debut on tour in the second match against the Cheetahs.
''It's funny as I usually don't get nervous before games but I was anxious and excited to get there. I have been training since November to get there and it was great to get a blast.''
His wife got up to watch him play - his three young children stayed in bed - as Ainley played his part in the big win over the Cheetahs.
He followed that up with a steady showing in the side's victory over the Force.
Ainley said he was happy with his performance over the past couple of games but knows the intensity is sure to rise tomorrow when the side takes on the Chiefs in Invercargill.
Ainley is one of only two locks left standing in the side.
Joe Wheeler has a knee injury and may not be back before the end of the season while Mark Reddish broke his hand in the win against the Force and is out for the rest of the season.
Tom Franklin comes into the side to partner Ainley in the second row with Joe Latta moving into the reserves.
Expectant father Elliot Dixon comes back on to the blindside flank with Gareth Evans on the bench.
Richard Buckman gets a start at second five-eighth with Shaun Treeby dropping out of the match-day squad. Jospeh said No 8 Nasi Manu was expected to be back next week from a sore shoulder.
The Highlanders have a good record in Invercargill, winning 11 of 17 games in the deep South, although their last game there was a forgettable 36-19 loss to the Cheetahs in 2013.
Highlanders v Chiefs
Invercargill, tomorrow, 7.35pm
Highlanders: Ben Smith (captain), Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Richard Buckman, Patrick Osborne, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Dan Pryor, John Hardie, Elliot Dixon, Tom Franklin, Alex Ainley, Josh Hohneck, Liam Coltman, Brendon Edmonds. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Ross Geldenhuys, Joe Latta, Gareth Evans, Fumiaki Tanaka, Marty Banks, Jason Emery
Chiefs: Damian McKenzie, Hosea Gear, Charlie Ngatai, Anton Lienert-Brown, Bryce Heem, Marty McKenzie, Augustine Pulu, Michael Leitch, Sam Cane (c), Maama Vaipulu, Michael Fitzgerald, Ross Filipo, Ben Tameifuna, Hika Elliot, Ben Tameifuna. Reserves: Quentin MacDonald, Siate Tokolahi, Mitchell Graham, Brian Alainu'uese, Mitchell Crosswell, Brad Weber, Andrew Horrell, Tim Nanai-Williams.