Richard Loe 's Opinion

Richard Loe is a former All Black and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Richard Loe: Chiefs still building but already look dangerous

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Tim Nanai-Williams. Photo / Getty Images
Tim Nanai-Williams. Photo / Getty Images

Things look pretty good for the Chiefs and pretty horrible for the Highlanders. The Chiefs are not playing at peak and are still winning. The Highlanders are doing a lot right - but are still losing.

I felt sorry for the Highlanders on Friday night - they changed things, manned up at the breakdowns, Elliott Dixon at No8 had his best game at this level as they tried to gee things up at loose forward. They tried to attack the Chiefs with pace and width and did it pretty well too. They had something like 75 per cent territory and about the same in possession - but all they had to show for it was Aaron Smith's try.

They got that only after the Chiefs had scored through Tim Nanai-Williams. It was typical Chiefs defence - hold on, hold on, hold on - turn the ball over then hurt the opposition on the counter. I thought the Chiefs would fade after about 10 minutes but they held firm and, in the end, it was the Highlanders who faded.

As I said last week, I think the Highlanders have depended too much on senior acquisitions who haven't really done the business yet - although it must be admitted they have been hit hard by injuries and the loss of Adam Thomson. But Ma'a Nonu, Brad Thorn and Tony Woodcock (he seems to have not played as much as he has played so far) haven't really made the difference coach Jamie Joseph was hoping for.

Nonu has been disappointing. He is a player who looks good, very good, when he is surrounded by quality like Dan Carter and Conrad Smith, for example. They give him the space to do his own job and he can look brilliant at times. But, if you ask him to provide the brilliance when he doesn't have that kind of player round him, he struggles - and that's what I thought happened on Friday.

Thorn still looks like a man who's played a lot of rugby in recent years and Woodcock's injury exposed the Highlanders' lack of depth at prop. I thought Chris King struggled and Bronson Murray doesn't appeal as a Super Rugby player.

Colin Slade at first five is still making his way back but looks hesitant; I think his confidence slipped when he missed those early kicks. If you are thinking All Blacks and guys who can play 10 and 15, Slade is now number five - behind Dan Carter, Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett and Gareth Anscombe who is making a good fist of things with the Chiefs.

They will give someone a mauling now they are getting all their troops back and when they get it all together. Assistant coach Tom Coventry looks like he's got prop Ben Tameifuna on Jenny Craig, Ben Afeaki continued his impressive form. Liam Messam had a fine all-round game and there was the usual high work rate from the pack, including lock Brodie Retallick and some impressive turnovers by Sam Cane, who looks ever more like Richie's No 2.

Richard Kahui looked good on his return and you'd have to say Nanai-Williams has been a hit, even at the unfamiliar centre position. His quick feet and speed off the mark make him difficult for opposition defences. He's unpredictable - a rare quality these days - and, while I think he might struggle to make the next step up, there's no doubt he's dangerous at this level; a man defences have to watch closely now.

A tick too for Lelia Masaga. He is starting to look much more like his old self. He put in a couple of big hits and did some hard work at the breakdowns too; his work on attack is paying off for him and his team. Like I say, when they get it right, they'll give someone a hiding.

- Herald on Sunday

Richard Loe

Richard Loe is a former All Black and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Richard Wyllie Loe was a renowned All Black forward prop who plied his trade for the New Zealand national team between 1987 and 1995. Loe was well known by fans and team mates alike as an ‘enforcer’ on the pitch, a player who balanced his abilities with the ball with a tough-tackling prowess and a penchant for physicality. During an outstanding career Richard Loe represented his country of birth in no less than three World Cups, assisting the All Blacks to a famous victory in 1987. Along with fellow team mate and captain Sean Fitzpatrick, Loe formed one of the most formidable forward lines ever to lead the All Blacks. Despite his sometimes overly physical dominance on the pitch, Loe is regarded by former team mates as being an exceptional character and professional. Following retirement from rugby Loe became a sport columnist for the New Zealand Herald, a position he still holds today.

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