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Impressive rise for former Highlander

13 September 2017 8:41 PM
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Impressive rise for former Highlander

Hames is a prop, loosehead for those who care about the detail, and that to some extent explains the relative anonymity. Props are rarely the rock stars in New Zealand.

It's not like France where they have a cult following, earn the big bucks and are way more likely to win the chat show invite than the long-haired, highly manicured first-five.

It's not like that here where in the last decade a number of props have passed through the All Blacks No 1 and No 3 jersey without too many people noticing or remembering.

Think Saimone Taumoepeau, Clarke Dermody, Campbell Johnstone, John Schwalger ... good blokes, good players but not giants of the game by any means and they slipped in and slipped out.

But Hames' relative lack of profile is as much about his somewhat peculiar pathway as it is the position he plays.

His association with the All Blacks began in 2013, by chance and quite amazingly, before he so much had even a whiff of a provincial contract.

Hames was a rugby development officer at the Bay of Plenty and was asked, randomly when the All Blacks had a training camp in the region, if he could provide some scrummaging opposition. His level back then was senior club football.

He pitched up in a Bay of Plenty T-shirt and an old pair of Warriors shorts, but that wasn't the reason the All Blacks front-rowers noticed him. It was the fact he was causing them a few problems and in the scrum that stood out more.

When the session finished, Wyatt Crockett presumed Hames was a provincial regular and was blown away to find that wasn't the case. There was genuine amazement that the All Blacks had just been done over by a club footballer, so Owen Franks rang Brad Thorn who rang Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph and Hames was contracted for 2014.

His time in the South didn't go too well, though. Hames didn't win much game time through a combination of form, injury and suspension and by the end of 2015, he was let go and initially unwanted by any other Super Rugby team.

He was thrown a bone in March 2016 when Pauliasi Manu was ruled out for the year and the Chiefs needed a loosehead. Hames himself was recovering from knee surgery but the Chiefs signed him anyway, without really having much in the way of choice.

By the end of Super Rugby that year the Chiefs hadn't made their mind up whether they would retain Hames, but the All Blacks had an entirely different view.

When Joe Moody was ruled out of the first Bledisloe Cup test in Sydney, the All Blacks called up Hames. Forwards coach Mike Cron had never forgotten the Bay of Plenty development officer and those Warriors shorts.

The explosive power he'd seen that day had resonated. Cron knows his scrummaging and he had seen something special in Hames.

The All Blacks didn't care that Super Rugby sides didn't necessarily rate Hames, they were convinced he could offer them precisely what they needed.

So Hames made his debut off the bench last year with no Super Rugby contract. He's now going to make his first start.

He has now a Super Rugby contract at least, but he's still not exactly a household name: still not a player that is widely regarded at Super Rugby level even if he is an All Black.

This may be the turning point in his career, though. The decision to start him against the Boks is a massive show of faith from the selectors.

It says they are truly investing in him, aware that the man he is keeping on the bench, Crockett, will not be around for ever given he's well into his mid-30s.

The All Blacks need depth at loosehead and they need to find out, for sure, whether Hames can provide it.


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