Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Co-captain to right the ship

Craig Clarke's leadership and work ethic have been missed by the Chiefs.

With the Chiefs' legs looking a little wobbly in losing to the Reds and Waratahs on successive weekends, the return of hard-working lock and co-captain Craig Clarke could hardly have come at a better time.

Clarke has missed the Chiefs' last five matches because of a concussion injury suffered in the team's loss to the Stormers in Cape Town on March 9.

His leadership and work ethic have been missed by Dave Rennie's men, particularly in the recent defeats in Hamilton and Sydney where uncharacteristic mistakes were made time and again by the defending champions.

Now available once more, Clarke said it was time for clear thinking rather than wholesale changes. He and his teammates recognised the amount of work ahead of them and were looking forward to the opportunity to right some wrongs against the Sharks at Waikato Stadium - a replay of last year's final - on Saturday night.

"It's pretty obvious that we're starting pretty poorly and that's a combination of [a lack of] intensity and accuracy - there have been too many mistakes which have let teams get a roll on early which is fairly tough to combat once you're down by a few," Clarke said.

"There's been a little bit of a disconnect between the forwards and the backs - when do the backs get the ball and when do the forwards take over, that sort of thing."

The Chiefs began the defence of their title well in accounting for the Highlanders and Cheetahs, and retained their attacking spark in the defeat by the Stormers. Since then, however, they have lacked a certain something. They weren't entirely convincing in their victories over the Kings, Highlanders and Blues, looked second-best against the Reds and gave the Waratahs too much of a head start.

Remarkably, they overhauled the Sydneysiders at Allianz Stadium in the final minutes only to concede a soft seven-pointer when replacement front-rower John Ulugia sailed through a large defensive hole.

They are missing Sonny Bill Williams to provide thrust in the midfield and the constant changes at second-five and centre aren't helping. However, one of the biggest differences from last year was the lack of punch in the forwards. Clarke said his pack had provided a decent enough platform - the set pieces were functioning okay - but the directness of last season was missing.

Fullback Andrew Horrell (ankle), No8 Fritz Lee (broken finger) and Richard Kahui (hamstring) were casualties last weekend but Kahui was running in training yesterday.

- APNZ

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