Angus Ta’avao was lining up other forms of work for the first half of this year, as his professional rugby career looked like stalling.
But wouldn’t you know it, the 27-year-old is now all of a sudden shaping as one of the most important players for a Chiefs Super Rugby side decimated by front-row injuries.
After not picking up a Super Rugby contract on either side of the Tasman for 2018, the experienced tighthead has been thrust back into the fold off the bench in the Chiefs’ first two games of the season, and is now set to get his first start for the franchise, against the Bulls in Hamilton on Friday night.
Playing for the Blues between 2012 and 2015, Ta’avao then linked up with the Waratahs on a two-year deal in a search for more game time. He got it, but when Wallaby Sekope Kepu returned from France last year he then found himself unwanted.
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In an ideal chance for him and his partner to relocate home with their baby son, Ta’avao returned to Taranaki for last year’s Mitre 10 Cup competition, which included captaining them to Ranfurly Shield glory against Canterbury.
But although Naki coach Colin Cooper was taking over at the Chiefs, the franchise already had their fair share of props sorted, and so after playing in it for the past six years, Ta’avao was instead set to watch Super Rugby from the sideline in 2018.
“I was looking at some other opportunities for the meantime,” he said.
“I started to look at getting into some television stuff. I also went and saw a careers person just to start seeing what I could do with property development. There was a couple of rugby things which didn’t work out, but it sort of made me really realise that your career can end like that and it’s important to plan and make sure you’ve got something else ticking away.”
But then came the “lifeline” from Cooper – a potential temporary training contract to cover the absence of All Blacks in the pre-season. And it was in face Ta’avao who was the one to initiate it in December.
“Me and Colin get along really well, have a good relationship,” he said.
“I just called him up and said ‘Mate, is that offer still going?’ And he said ‘Yeah mate, come along’. And it’s probably turned out for the best.”
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Indeed, with Mitchell Graham (leg), Sefo Kautai (foot) and Kane Hames (illness) out of action, Ta’avao was into the pre-season games, then with Nepo Laulala breaking his arm against the Blues and Atu Moli now out for the season after complications with a quad hematoma which required surgery, he looms as a key component.
“I sort of thought it will keep me fit and see what happens,” Ta’avao said.
“As it happens, there’s been a few injuries, and now I’ve got a pretty cool opportunity for me and my family to wear this jersey, and I’m loving it.”
With his contract now extended till the end of the season, Ta’avao has a house here sorted and his family will move down from Auckland. He said the lifestyle was awesome in Sydney “but coming back home with my little one, you can just tell that home is the best place”.
So after bench cameos in the first two games against the Crusaders and Blues – who he had debuted for against the Chiefs exactly six years to the day earlier – it’s now a bigger role which looms, as Ta’avao looks to make his impact felt, on a quest he still hopes may one day reap an All Blacks jersey.
“I’ve played 73 Super games and been around a while, I like to think I’m a guy who brings a bit of energy and try and boost morale around the team,” he said. “I’ve got a little bit of experience, but there’s some great leaders here as well, so it’s more just like supplementing them and helping out where I can.”