Lauaki shock Chiefs skipper

2010-01-18 11:31
New skipper (File)
Hamilton - Sione Lauaki has leapt to the front of the Chiefs' leadership queue and, in a surprise move, will captain the team for the opening three games of this year's Super 14.

According to the Waikato Times, head coach Ian Foster dropped the bombshell when he announced the controversial No 8, who came close to heading overseas at the end of last year before re-signing with the New Zealand and Waikato rugby unions, would be the interim skipper for the team's season-opening tour of South Africa and Australia.

Regular captain Mils Muliaina will miss the first three matches as part of an extended off-season break he negotiated in his national contract renewal last year.

Many might have expected Waikato skipper and All Black Liam Messam to get the job or even centre Richard Kahui, but Foster said Lauaki was a very senior member of the team who had a much bigger impact on his team-mates off the field than many people realised.

"On-field he's hugely influential for this particular group and off-field – as I've been saying for a while – he has a major impact on the culture of the team," Foster said.

"I think he's really grown through some ups and downs and become a fantastic leader.

"We saw a lot of behind-the-scenes leadership last year particularly that was very valuable for us.

"He's got a very good relationship with Mils and it's just a chance for him. He's been here since December, he's got a good feel for this group and I think it just takes a bit of a load off the All Blacks, who are coming back, to not come in and feel like they have got to do everything but just be the best they can be in those early rounds."

Foster said Muliaina had spent some limited time with Lauaki after the captaincy decision had been finalised last Friday before the All Black fullback headed overseas for two weeks.

"He had a quick talk with Sione but those guys have been in this group for two or three years together now, we kind of know how we want it to operate and in some ways it's nice for Sione to have a little bit of space to develop his own style," Foster said.

"Particularly with a Richard Kahui, who has been here since the start too, also there. We've got some good leaders in this group and it's nice for us to have that sort of depth in our team when our All Blacks aren't here."

Lauaki, who has had his share of off-field scrapes during his time in Waikato since transferring from Auckland, has played 65 matches for the Chiefs in six seasons of Super Rugby.

Last year looked to be his last when he admitted he'd given up hope of an All Blacks recall and was considering his future as his contract wound to a close.

Instead he put pen to paper to sign for one more season in New Zealand and now the Chiefs are backing him to provide just the spark they need to go one step further than last year's position of beaten finalist.

Much will depend on how well captain Lauaki inspires the Chiefs in the season-opening matches against the Sharks in Durban, Lions in Johannesburg and Force in Perth.


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