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New lock fits in

Herald On Sunday
Wednesday, January 29, 2014

If the Chiefs had to select someone to climb Mt Everest, new lock Matt Symons might be asked to pack his crampons.

In yo-yo fitness tests to assess the players' aerobic capacity before Christmas, coach Dave Rennie revealed the 2m, 117kg lock had broken the franchise record, clocking 19.4s.

Let's put that number in context: an video from 2009 has Richie McCaw in his pomp, puffing to 19.2 to head off his All Blacks teammates.

The 24-year-old lock's aerobic capacity — in addition to power, mobility and aerial skills — will be handy when he debuts for the Super Rugby champions.

Symons was recruited after excelling as a first-choice lock for Canterbury in last year's ITM Cup before injuring his shoulder.

"Tom Coventry discussed Super Rugby options with me," Symons says.

"It helped me appreciate what the Chiefs stood for — I love the work ethic and team ethos."

Symons was once part of Britain's age group rowing squad, an outfit synonymous with physical adversity. He had to give up due to the stress of compartment syndrome, a medical condition where not enough blood gets to muscles and nerves in 'compartments' of the body like the arms or legs. He needed surgery on his forearms to remedy it but gave up rowing.

Symons says rugby can be just as brutal: "When I rowed, we'd train up to three sessions a day, seven days a week at times. I spent two years in the under-23 training camps. It can be a harsh sport because of the mental toughness required against the machine and the racing demands over 2000m.

"However, rugby pre-season training with the Chiefs has been just as difficult. The fitness levels are hard to compare but rugby sessions are up there because of the physical contact and the stop-start nature sprinting everywhere."

Symons played for English second division club Esher but moved to New Zealand on the recommendation of his brother Andrew, who played in the Tasman midfield and had spent time at Canterbury's International High Performance Unit.

Symons joined the High School Old Boys club where the premier team was coached by former All Blacks Reuben Thorne and Aaron Mauger.

"As forwards coach, Reuben's understanding of set piece rugby was outstanding," Symons said. "I learnt a lot off him."

"I was immediately impressed with his attitude and his willingness to take a leadership role in the group," said Thorne, who is currently assisting the Honda Heat franchise in Japan.

"He began calling the lineouts almost immediately and quickly became an integral part of our tight five. He became a popular part of our club team and embraced the New Zealand rugby culture.

"His fitness and work rate set him apart from most other tight forwards.

"He is also highly skilled and athletic.

"Several times I can recall him making covering tackles or carrying the ball in situations which the average lock wouldn't have been able to do.

"His specific set piece skills of lineouts, kickoffs and scrummaging will quickly improve in a professional environment.

"He has all the attributes and intelligence to be an outstanding lock."

With co-captain Craig Clarke and Romana Graham signing with European franchises, the Chiefs have signed Symons, Mike Fitzgerald, Ross Filipo and Brodie Retallick as specialist locks. No 8 Kane Thompson is also an option if injury strikes.

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