Super Rugby
Mealamu's milestone built on hard work, spare boots
Sam Bruce
March 5, 2015
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All Blacks veteran Keven Mealamu stands among the most disciplined and respected players in the game, and the Blues hooker may just have an early schoolboy error to thank for his unparalleled longevity in the engine room of world rugby.

"I remember being very excited and I remember the first game that I got to start for the Blues I actually left my boots at the hotel," Mealamu told ESPN. "But I was lucky enough one of my good mates had a spare pair of boots, so I was probably that nervous that I really wanted to play well and had so many things going through my head that I forgot my boots at the hotel."

It's hard to imagine Mealamu forgetting his boots in the 15 years since that first Blues start, a career that has seen him acquire more than 100 Test caps and one which, against the Lions in Albany this weekend, will see him become Super Rugby's most capped player. The man simply known as "Kevvy" will surpass former Queensland Reds and Western Force lock Nathan Sharpe, when he registers his 163rd appearance in the world's toughest provincial rugby competition.

Keven Mealamu will stand alone as Super Rugby's most capped player © Getty Images

It will be Mealamu's first start of the 2015, and the first of what he's declared will be his final professional season. And it's that very word, "professional", which perhaps best describes the 35-year-old Tokoroa native and explains how, after 15 years at the top level, he's still prepared to stick his head into one of the darkest places in world sport.

"I sort of pride myself on being a professional," Mealamu told ESPN. "I try to look after the body well and always prepare well for games. I think every week I really enjoy turning up each day to training and getting to do what I love to do not as a job; I turn up every day and this is what I get paid to do so it's something I love and I'm in a really blessed position to be in."

It's been some time since the Blues tasted Super Rugby success - 12 years, in fact, when a much-younger Mealamu was part of one of the great sides in the competition's history. The likes of Carlos Spencer, Rupeni Caucaunibuca and Doug Howlett fired the Aucklanders to the title, playing a brand of rugby Mealamu says typified what the competition is all about.

New Zealand's Richie McCaw awards Keven Mealamu his 100th Test cap, Australia v New Zealand, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, Australia, October 20, 2012
Richie McCaw awards Mealamu his 100th Test cap (2012) © Getty Images

"Yes we had a really special team [in 2003] and I think the brand of rugby that we played that year was hard and fast," Mealamu said. "And I think for me, looking back at some of the teams, that team would have been one of the teams that really exemplifies Super Rugby; using the ball out wide, using the speed and the pace and even our forwards were good ball-handlers as well. So we had quite a good team, especially on the attacking side and we could shift the ball really well."

That certainly hasn't been the case for Sir John Kirwan's side this season, with the Blues dropping their first three games to record the franchise's worst ever start to the campaign. A clash with the Lions - who are also winless - at their second home, North Harbour Stadium, should provide an excellent opportunity to right their early wrongs, providing they improve their discipline and turnover rate.

"I think [the Blues' issues] can be fixed and, if you look at the first three games, they're games that we've been right in the mixer for," Mealamu said.

"I think looking at little things like discipline, no easy points inside our half and I think just being able to limit our errors at the moment. If we can really execute well, that will give us a good chance to win at the moment. We're sort of there or thereabouts but we're letting ourselves down with little discipline issues and turning the ball over when we're right hot on attack; so I think those are two things that if we concentrate on for the next couple of weeks, really nail down on them, I'm pretty sure we can turn some of these games into good wins."

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While righting the Blues' season is his first priority, the chance to bow out of the game as a two-time Rugby World Cup-winner is not lost on Mealamu. His role at the All Blacks has changed to be more of a back-up to the energetic, if sometimes wayward, Dane Coles, but it's his experience and presence at training, team meetings and the dressing-rooms for which there will be no substitute in England come September.

"It would be an amazing thing, I know that no team in the history has been able to do it - go back-to-back," Mealamu said of the World Cup. "It would be an amazing feat but I realise how hard it will be. For me, personally, I want to make sure, and I know all the other players will be the same; is just making sure that we play really well and get some good form going into that competition but it's still quite a few months away. So while it's something that's in the back of our head, we're all just concentrating on making sure we're playing well to get selected for that team."

The first leg of Mealamu's final journey starts on Saturday, when he'll break the record he shares currently with Sharpe. But you get the feeling little will change as one of world rugby's true professionals goes about his business.

"I think it will definitely be something that when I look back at my career, I'll have more time to reflect on it," Mealamu said of becoming Super Rugby's most capped warrior. "At the moment I'm just looking forward to getting back on the field and contributing to the team. When I look back I know there's been a lot of hard work and a lot of time gone into preparing for each year, and for each week. But at the moment, I'm just really excited to get back and join the team and try and help get that win."

Hard work, dedication and perhaps an extra pair of boots; they're the hallmarks of Mealamu, Super Rugby's milestone man.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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