Sefo Kautai can pinpoint the moment his rugby career turned around.
He flew from Waikato to answer an SOS to join the ACT Brumbies in the midst of an injury crisis in March. He was joining a prop unit boasting Wallabies veterans James Slipper, Allan Alaalatoa and Scott Sio.
And from the moment he pulled on his Brumbies training gear, he knew he had to earn his stripes.
"It was my first two days turning up to training," Kautai said.
"It was the intensity level, the physicality and the speed of the game I needed to match up to if I wanted to go further in my footy career. It put me into place almost.
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"For myself personally, [it gave me] little work-ons I needed to work on around my game and around areas of the field.
"I learnt a lot every day when I'd turn up to work. It was pretty good. I learnt a lot from Laurie [Fisher] and Dan [McKellar], and especially all of the other players as well. It was pretty awesome actually, rubbing shoulders with the best props in the world. I'd kind of pinch myself every now and then.
"[I learnt about] the tempo you've got to be at if you want to reach international level. Learning from those guys was pretty good."
Kautai rose to the occasion. The tighthead prop played five games and has now re-signed with the Super Rugby Pacific contenders for the 2022 season.
He will jostle with Tom Ross for a place on the Brumbies' bench with Alaalatoa to start. Both Kautai and Ross are playing in New Zealand's National Provincial Championship in a move Brumbies coaches see as a crucial development opportunity.
Ross is playing with Southland while Kautai has returned to Waikato, where his Super Rugby career started with the Chiefs, but is set to spend another fortnight on the sidelines with a knee injury.
"I really wanted to get more minutes so it was really important [to come back to Waikato]," Kautai said.
"I've got a lot to give back to the franchise here, especially because this is where my professional career kicked off, here in Waikato. I've always got time for Waikato."
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