Wynne Gray 's Opinion

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Rotation working well for champs but they need more certainty

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Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Two Super 15 titles are more than enough to suggest the Chiefs know what they are doing.

We like what they are up to, we admire the way they scout talent, resurrect players and deliver a stirring style of rugby. Dave Rennie and co. broke the mould in 2012 and reinforced that last season.

The group combines old-fashioned values of ticker and hard work alongside their attention to technique, skill, game plans and adventure. Draws in their last two appearances have suggested a wobble but their ability to claw their way back into both games said a great deal about their character.

The Chiefs have not been shy about making changes either while they have been hit by an uncommon number of injuries in this campaign.

They have tinkered with their selections, sometimes more heavily than others, but are always looking at ways to get the most out of the squad. Eight changes came for tonight's match against the Rebels.

Player rotation used to be a dirty word in rugby's lexicon. Now we are getting more accustomed to it even if we find some changes, such as the Crusaders have produced this round bringing Willi Heinz in for Andy Ellis at halfback, most unusual.

The concept appeared in the All Blacks in 2002 when coach John Mitchell and his assistant Robbie Deans decided to leave 21 players at home to rehab for the World Cup instead of touring Europe.

From their previous test in Durban to their first on tour against England, the All Blacks made 13 changes to their starting lineup. Taine Randell was a new captain and only Doug Howlett and Tana Umaga kept their places.

The notion began to get more traction during Graham Henry's reign until the tacky efforts to pull players out of Super rugby and then rotate them further during the worst World Cup campaign in 2007.

As the rugby season has stretched and the games have become more intense, the interchange of players has gained more traction. Acceptance of the concept is not comprehensive but there is a nod to the coaches-and-medical-staff-know-best argument.

When the Chiefs operate that system and take home consecutive trophies, it is hard to disagree.

They have a squad without a stack of All Blacks although they used two of them, Liam Messam and Aaron Cruden, throughout their tenure until tonight and Brodie Retallick for most of the time. Others such as Sam Cane and Tawera Kerr-Barlow are on the interchange roster.

There is not much to choose between many Chiefs players so the selectors can swap them to get a better gauge or pick them to combat different opposition. That gives the coaches more information about their men and removes any complacency about team selections.

So far the policy has been a boon but with the recent wobbles in South Africa, the Chiefs tonight need more certainty for their next chunk of action against some of the competition heavyweights.

- NZ Herald

Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

NZ Herald senior rugby writer Wynne Gray has been covering the All Blacks for almost 25 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

Read more by Wynne Gray

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