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Chiefs prop competition mounts

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Sportal.co.nz     30 May 2012     Getty Images

An arm injury sidelined the prop - who plies his ITM Cup trade with North Harbour - in the opening match of the season and made his return to an all-new front row combination in Hamilton last weekend.

While the Chiefs went on to win, Afeaki had a victory of his own, playing the full 80 minutes and giving his confidence a much needed boost.

"It was a good game," Afeaki recalled. "The Bulls are a team you like to play against because you know they're always going to be physical.

"It was nice to come back after 13 weeks off. I really enjoyed playing and I didn't think about my arm once - that's huge."

What will be of most concern to coach Dave Rennie is the abundance of talent he has in the front row. Two international hookers in Hika Elliot (New Zealand) and Mahonri Schwalger (Samoa), All Black wider training group member Ben Tameifuna, a resurgent Afeaki, the twinkle-toed Tongan prop Sona Taumalolo and the ever-improving Toby Smith.

Afeaki was full of praise for the young Tameifuna, who has caught the eye of the All Black selectors with his consistent, fend-fuelled performances.

"[Tameifuna]'s done really well. He has really stepped up and has obviously played well. We'll have to compete for the same spot week in and week out."

With the international window looming, the Chiefs prop said there was still an opportunity to seal his spot in the starting team ahead of the break, against a Blues side who were no doubt looking for redemption in the smallest form.

Afeaki is one of a number of Polynesian players in the side - one only needs to look at the front row to see such wealth - and he credited Rennie for his ability to mix those of different cultures as part of his side's success.

"It's a really friendly environment here, with a lot of different cultures. Dave has really tried to mix that into our team by getting us to do different things."

The Chiefs play against the Blues at North Harbour Stadium in Albany on Saturday.