Ben Afeaki, or ‘Bigs’ to his mates, is a great bloke who has already achieved a great deal in his life. Nick Jones caught up with the former All Black and discusses his scaffolding business, rugby life, fishing and diving.

Ben’s story could have been one of sorrow, with his rugby playing career ending prematurely due to concussion issues.

After one test, eight Maori All Blacks games, 36 Super Rugby matches and 58 provincial matches for North Harbour, he had a nasty head clash with big Brodie Retallick. He spent over a year trying to recover, dealing with fatigue, headaches and memory loss before making the wise decision to retire – with the full support of all involved.

It was an emotional exit from the Chiefs team, who paid tribute to Ben with the most passionate haka former Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has ever witnessed. However, Bigs has a positive attitude, and chose to cherish his time in the game while focussing on new opportunities on the horizon.

I asked Ben about his fondest playing memories, and he said winning back-to-back Super Rugby titles with the Chiefs was pretty special – and of course pulling on the black jersey! During his playing days he welcomed personal development opportunities with open arms, participating in university study and courses on budgeting and career-planning.

Less than four months after retiring from footy, he started a scaffolding business with his former North Harbour teammate James Rodley. He reckons this venture helped him through a potentially difficult post-rugby transition, as he set about planning, networking, catching up with mentors and setting new goals.

Ben and James weaved many of their team values, culture and camaraderie from their rugby environment into the scaffolding business. The business was a success, with Ben eventually selling out of the company to focus on his current career path – coaching.

Ben currently coaches with the Blues, initially specialising in the familiar art of scrummaging but now moving into a more general assistant role. Two years coaching with North Harbour evolved into this appointment with the Blues. Former Blues coach Tana Umaga caught his 2011 Chiefs team-mate off-guard when he approached him about coming onboard.

“I was a bit shocked, and I was pretty honest with him and said I didn’t know if I was up for it. But I had a bit of a think about it, and what a great opportunity it is. It’s awesome to be involved in the region I grew up in.
“I love the game, it’s done a lot for me as a person, and I just want to give back and help our boys out and give them the best shot to play the best rugby they can and achieve their goals.”

Although Ben never had the opportunity to play in a World Cup, he did get to coach at one – travelling to Japan last year as part of the Samoa coaching team. Now back on home soil and fully focused on the Blues, he reckons the current Blues set-up is looking good for the 2020 season under head-coach Leon McDonald, with a good mix of youthful vigour and experience in the playing roster.

Ben isn’t only successful in the professional world, he’s also a passionate and skilful diver and fisherman. He relishes the chance to get out on the ocean, and his favourite pastime is donning the wetsuit and freediving for kai. He’s shot some big kingfish with the speargun, and is adept at grabbing crayfish, paua and scallops around the NZ coast. One of his favourite haunts is Great Barrier Island, where family in-law live and likely send Ben into the water to reduce the grocery bill when the big man comes to stay!

Ben needs the energy, however, keeping fit through his coaching role and completing the occasional halfmarathon. I almost forgot to mention Bigs is also a TV star – having regularly appeared as a guest on Matt Watson’s fishing shows. Ben’s positive attitude is obvious from these episodes – he’s just happy to be out on the water, regardless of whether the fish are biting or not. I’m sure there are many more accomplishments around the corner for Bigs, even if the Blues have another season to forget!

Article by: Nick Jones