David Havili’s mind took him straight back to the Johannesburg cauldron in 2017 as he reflected on his previous 99 games for the Crusaders.
Like all members of the team that beat the Lions in the 2017 Super Rugby Final, triumphing in front of 62,000 fans in an electric atmosphere at altitude is practically a career highlight.
Making back-to-back titles in front of Crusaders fans in Christchurch the following year also stands out, as does his 50th game for the franchise.
Today, seven years after his debut with the reds and blacks, the 27-year-old is preparing to join the 100 club on Saturday evening.
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He had originally planned to lift the ton against the Blues in Christchurch last week, only for a Covid-19 outbreak within the squad to postpone the game.
Instead, he will have to do it on the road, against the Chiefs in Hamilton, the same halfback Mitchell Drummond won his 100th a year ago.
“I had some time to reflect on where I came from, what I did, it was a huge achievement and I know that, there were only a few people to do it, to join this elite crew is pretty special,” said Havili.
Hailing from the small South Island town of Motueka, he’s certainly had an engrossing journey – from his failure to make Nelson College’s first XV to going on and representing the All Blacks.
In between was the career-threatening gut infection of 2020, when Havili had an infection removed from 20cm, and his well-documented positional move from the back last season.
It was that move, which Havili called a “bitter pill to swallow” when Crusaders manager Scott Robertson suggested it, that propelled him back to the All Blacks in 2021 for the first time since 2017.
It’s equally positive for the Phoenix and Warriors, who both plan to return home for games.
“For me he’s probably the most versatile utility player I’ve ever coached, and going to 12 and specializing is quite unique, not many people do that, from a world-class full-back to a midfielder of world class is a unique challenge,” Robertson said this week.
“What we’re really proud of is how much he cares about the group, everything he gives us on and off the pitch. The leadership he brings, every part of the success we’ve had over the past five years, Dave has been a big part of that. If you watch any of the effort clips, on or off the court, he’s right there. His actions are like a true crusader.
A member of the wider training squad in 2015, Havili played 11 games and was granted a full contract the following year when he played mainly in midfield under then manager Todd Blackadder.
But it was the back where he shone between 2017 and 2020, before the presence of Will Jordan forced him to rethink.
After playing together at Tasman and the Crusaders, the pair grew closer, with Jordan calling Havili a mentor and friend.
“I have so much respect for Dave. A few things that really stand out, just his all-around skills, his ability to blend in with whatever the team needs, such a selfless player,” Jordan said.
“The other is just about his stuff off the pitch, the way he’s grown as a leader. When I came to the team, it probably wasn’t something that came naturally to him. Being a boy Mot calm, it was probably a trend.
“I think starting as captain of Tasman a few years ago, and now moving into his vice-captain role with the Crusaders, it’s a real testament to how he’s been able to build his game. … he has a great ability to connect with younger players and really unite the group.
Chiefs vs. Crusaders
Or: FMG Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
When: Saturday, 7:05 p.m.
Arbitrator: James Doleman
TAB odds: Crusaders $1.75 Chefs $2
crossed: Will Jordan, Chay Fihaki, Leicester Fainga’anuku, David Havili, George Bridge, Richie Mo’unga, Bryn Hall, Cullen Grace, Tom Christie, Ethan Blackadder, Quinten Strange, Scott Barrett (c), Oli Jager, Brodie McAlister, Finlay Brewis. Reservations: Codie Taylor, George Bower, Tamaiti Williams, Mitch Dunshea, Corey Kellow, Mitch Drummond, Fergus Burke, Sevu Reece
Chiefs: Kaleb Trask, Shaun Stevenson, Alex Nankivell, Quinn Tupaea, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Bryn Gatland, Brad Weber (cc), Samipeni Finau, Sam Cane (cc), Tupou Vaa’i, Brodie Retallick, Josh Lord, Sione Mafileo, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Ollie Norris. Reservations: Tyrone Thompson, Aidan Ross, Angus Ta’avao, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Kaylum Boshier, Mitch Jacobson, Cortez Ratima, Josh Ioane.