Don't panic Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby fans ... big Ben Tameifuna has put his 21st birthday party on hold until after the ITM Cup season.
Several fans have asked if Tameifuna, who turned 21 yesterday, was having his party this week. They were concerned the Chiefs prop's party might prove a distraction for Tameifuna and his teammates in the build-up to tonight's third round ITM Cup clash against the Counties-Manukau Steelers at Napier's McLean Park.
One could appreciate their concern considering Tameifuna's love of "ota ika" (raw fish) bathed in coconut cream and roast pig cooked in hangi fashion. It's not the sort of stuff Tameifuna and fellow Magpies should indulge in as they chase their first win of the season.
"We'll have the party at the end of the season. It will be here in the Bay and it will involve family, members of the Tongan community and rugby mates ... we'll be able to give things a good nudge then," Tameifuna said.
"With these short turnarounds we can't have the boys turning up at trainings boozed up," Tameifuna said.
The Hastings Boys' High School product who was an All Blacks wider training group member earlier this year had yet to receive an fancy presents, "just texts and phone calls so far."
Tameifuna agreed a victory against the Steelers tonight would make an ideal present.
"That would be the icing on the cake ... I would be very stoked," Tameifuna said.
Tameifuna returns to his more favoured tighthead propping role tonight after playing the loosehead role in Tuesday night's loss to Wellington in the capital.
"I'll play loosehead if I have to but I prefer tighthead," said the 135kg player who was a halfback during his primary school days in Auckland.
Tameifuna was impressed with the Magpies Captain's Run at Flaxmere College yesterday.
"Us players and the coaches are on the same page now. We were for the first half against Wellington too ... it's now time for everyone to be on the same page for the full 80 minutes."
Tameifuna is looking forward to coming up against a front row which includes Chiefs hooker and former Magpie Mo Schwalger.
"I'm sure Mo will be targeting me. But I know as much about him as he knows about me."
Tameifuna was thrilled some of his cousins were among the Flaxmere College crowd during yesterday's session.
"This is a great opportunity for many of the students to see what they can achieve when they leave school. We've enjoyed these captain's runs out in the community ... they show we care," he added.
Along with Tameifuna, fellow Magpies, openside flanker Karl Lowe, hooker Hika Elliot and substitute loosie Tivaini Fomai, all have strong links with Flaxmere. Sports co-ordinator at the college and former MAC player, Len Huia, was rapt to watch Magpies fitness trainer Grant Dearns take some of the school's players through some drills.
"Hopefully this visit will prove to be a boost to our rugby programme at the school," Huia said.
Tameifuna's switch is one of several changes made by Magpies coach Craig Philpott to the team used against Wellington. Loosehead prop Adrian Barone of the Napier Pirate and Taradale lock Johan Schoonbee, who replaces Maselino Paulino, will both make their first class debuts for the Magpies.
Blindside flanker Trent Boswell-Wakefield had a knock to the head in the capital and Philpott said his replacement, Havelock North captain Adam Bradey, will bring some fresh energy. Tua Saseve and fullback Nick McLennan will both make their first starting XV appearances of the season as replacements for Star Timu and Gillies Kaka respectively.
Should New Zealand under-20 first five-eighth Ihaia West get game time off the bench it will also be his first class debut for the side.
The Steelers are likely to be a lot stronger than the Pukekohe-based outfit the Magpies walloped 44-14 last year. Schwalger and loosehead prop Simon Lemalu are experienced frontrowers, New Zealand Sevens and Steelers captain DJ Forbes, who will start at openside flanker, and No8 Fritz Lee, are more than capable loosies and there is talent to burn in the visitors backline with the likes of Chiefs utility Tim Nanai-Williams at fullback, Sevens stars Frank Halai and Sherwin Stowers on the wings and Bundee Aki at second five-eighth.
After conceding 27 and 25 missed tackles in their first two matches respectively the Magpies will be eager to reduce the count tonight. If they can against such talented backs it will be a confidence booster for their remaining matches.
Bay of Plenty won a scrappy affair with Otago at Rotorua last night in their ITM Cup rugby match.
The home side won 31-19 in a match that failed to rise to any heights and was dominated by mistakes and whistle.
The home side took over in the second half against an Otago side that never got out of first gear.
Bay of Plenty won the game in a short five-minute period of the second half, scoring 14 points without reply.
The first half had 15 penalties dished out by referee Shaun Elliot and not surprisingly there was little continuity.
Both sides were guilty of going too far in the contact area, and a poor body position while carrying the ball.
Bay of Plenty 31 (Tristan Moran 2, Luke Braid tries; Nick McCashin 2 con, 4 pen) Otago 19 (Tony Ensor try; Hayden Parker con, 4 pen)