Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie says he is confident he has chosen the right squad to help retain their Super Rugby title for 2013.
Rennie, in his second year at the Waikato/Bay of Plenty franchise, has managed to retain the majority of their winning squad from last season with Augustine Pulu, Josh Hohneck and Bundee Aki moving from the wider training squad into the main squad. Rennie's squad contains five current All Blacks, seven Maori All Blacks and seven new recruits.
Talking exclusively to the Daily Post yesterday, Rennie said he was happy with the 2013 squad.
"We've got a nucleus of last year's squad and three of our wider squad training group boys have come in so we've got about 25 guys who were part of it [campaign] last year and we've got a few new faces to add a bit of spark," Rennie said.
"We're certainly happy with the bunch of guys we've got and we're under no illusions on how tough it is in this competition, especially in the New Zealand franchise, it's very tough. But we've got a lot of guys who've been through it already and had a lot of success and well aware of the hard work that's required."
Joining the squad is former All Black Ross Filipo who returned to Wellington after playing rugby in France and England and is expected to be a great addition to the team, said Rennie.
"I had a fair bit to do with Ross when he was a young fella in Wellington. So he's very experienced and offers a lot more flexibility to our group. We've picked him primarily as a loose forward but he can play lock and is a very experienced lineout forward."
Also joining the squad for the first time is New Zealand under-20 hooker Rhys Marshall from Taranaki, Canterbury's Fijian-born winger Patrick Osborne and Wellington prop and former New Zealand under-20 Solomona Sakalia, Auckland first-five Gareth Anscombe, Manawatu loose forward Nick Crosswell and Wellington midfielder Charlie Ngatai.
Although Rennie had not named his captain, he said using the co-captain system with Craig Clark and Liam Messam this year had been successful.
"We haven't decided if we are going to continue with that. We've got some other really good leaders within that group as well and our leadership group grew tremendously throughout the campaign so we were pretty fortunate there."
The Chiefs will play nine games at home next season, with one being a pre-season fixture (Owen Delany Park, Taupo). All but two fixtures will be played at Waikato Stadium. Bay Park Stadium, Mount Maunganui will host the Chiefs and Blues on March 30 and ECOLight Stadium, Pukekohe will host the Chiefs and Western Force on May 10.
Rotorua have missed out on a home match, something Rennie said he was disappointed with.
"We'd like to play in Rotorua, it's a great stadium. The Chiefs haven't been there for a long time on an official visit. We had a game there last year against Bay of Plenty and Counties. It was a chance for us to engage with the public."
The Chiefs' first home game for the Super Rugby season will be against the Cheetahs at Waikato Stadium on March 2.
The Chiefs' home fixtures:
Saturday, February 2: Chiefs v Highlanders (pre-season) - Owen Delany Park, Taupo 3pm
Saturday, March 2: Chiefs v Cheetahs - Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, 7.35pm
Friday, March 22: Chiefs v Highlanders - Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, 7.35pm
Saturday, March: 30 Chiefs v Blues - Bay Park, Tauranga 7.35pm
Saturday, April 13: Chiefs v Reds - Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, 4.30pm
Saturday, April 27: Chiefs v Sharks - Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, 7.35pm
Friday, May 10: Chiefs v Western Force - ECOLight Stadium, Pukekohe 7.35pm
Friday, May 24: Chiefs v Crusaders - Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, 7.35pm
Friday, June 28: Chiefs v Hurricanes - Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, 7.35pm