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Mafi is the man with a difference

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Goodbye Stevie Mafi and good luck. It was a pleasure to watch the big man in Tigers colours.

There are critics of the modern game who point to players all taught the same way through junior ranks, into academies and onwards, who are subject to ultra-analysis of attack and defence, who play the game by numbers called from the training ground or the coach’s bench. These are the critics who believe so many of the game’s players are interchangeable and possibly anonymous.
But some men are different.
The Tig can think of no other player, for example, who joined one of the game’s leading clubs as a 6ft 6in flanker or lock who previously played club rugby at centre but still managed to jump in the lineout and went to the base of the scrum in attacking plays. But Stevie Mafi did, and he did it at the very top of the club game.
Big Stevie was a raw talent when he arrived at Welford Road, but with coaching and training at Tigers, together with the influence of his colleagues, he blossomed and exceeded all expectations as a player without a significant southern-hemisphere career previously.
He was one the gems the club has developed a happy habit of discovering on a regular basis.
The Tig remembers his comment that he would never have scored a vital try in an away win over the Scarlets early in his Tigers career without the extra mass he had added as a professional player.
Every supporter will have their own memories of Stevie in action, at the front of the lineout, with ball in hand on the wing, or the tries he contributed in some big games, including Aviva Premiership and an LV= Cup Final when he looked unstoppable on the day.
But The Tig’s favourite memory, the one that will be passed on to future generations when we look back on these past few seasons, will not be of a specific game-defining moment. Instead, we will talk about the regular sight of opposition players absolutely bewildered as to where to tackle the big man. With ball in one hand, the other out-stretched to hold off a defender, with a tackler or two making little impression around the ankle area, Steve’s ability in possession made him a hero. He could keep running, he could offload, and he could score tries. It was great to watch.
All the best Big Man, go well.