“The vibe is really good. Everybody loves each other’s company,” responds Alex Fidow when asked to contrast the differences between the 2016 and 2017 Wellington Lions.
With a match remaining in the round robin of the National Provincial Championship, Wellington sits atop the Championship standings and is guaranteed to finish top qualifier earning a home semi-final and hosting rights for the decider should they advance that far.
Wellington comprehensively beat Premiership leaders Canterbury and new Ranfurly Shield holders Taranaki and blew a 28-13 lead in their only defeat of the season to Tasman. Fidow credits new coach Chris Gibbes for much of the success.
“Chris keeps you honest. He is an old forward who doesn’t take any crap. When Earl (Va’a) was coaching I knew how to hide things because I had him so long,” Fidow laughs.
Fidow was a sensation under Earl Va’a at Scots College. In 60 matches for the First XV the smiling, rampaging prop scored 49 tries, including two in the 2015 National Top four final.
That same year he won the Jerry Collins Memorial Bronze Boot award as New Zealand’s MVP in the annual secondary schools’ test against Australia. Fidow was so big at Strathmore it took half a dozen balls of wool to knot school socks that he could actually fit.
In 2016, Fidow quickly graduated to first-class rugby, but failed to emulate his impact at Scots. All Black prop Jeff Toomaga-Allen has been a key figure in increasing Fidow’s confidence.
“Jeff’s a real good mentor. He has taught me a few tricks in the scrum and has kept me honest,” Fidow acclaims.
In a happy, winning environment Fidow has flourished. He has scored six tries which makes him the leading try scoring forward in the competition, with only Bay of Plenty prop Luka Connor (8 tries) in the Women’s competition more prolific.
Additionally he has beaten 36 defenders which ranks him behind backs George Bridge (45) and Solomona Alaimalo (40) as the most prolific tackle breaker in the NPC. In combination with close friend Asafo Aumua the two rookie forwards have caused plenty of pyrotechnics.
“Asafo has been awesome this year. It goes to show all the hard work he puts in his paying off,” Fidow praises.
Alex says his favourite try in 2017 is the 30-metre runaway against Otago which he humbly attributed to the industry of his teammates.
“It’s nice to score tries, but all the credit goes to the boys. They put me in those positions. I just try to express myself when I can.”
Wellington concludes the NPC regular season at the Westpac Stadium on Thursday night when they tackle Northland who needs to win to confirm their place in the semi-finals. The injured party of Vaea Fifita, Brad Shields, Wes Goosen and James Blackwell all make a timely return for the hosts, but Fidow is not getting carried away by the sudden influx of experience.
“We are taking things one game at a time. We can’t afford to get too far ahead of ourselves. We were in a similar position last year and didn’t finish the job,” Fidow cautions.
Interestingly Alex’s stepdad Reece played for Ories and was not noted for his size. Mother Ana works in a retirement village.