Rugby: Revamped Chiefs eye NZ conference top spot

By Kris Shannon

Gareth Anscombe will start for the Chiefs. Photo / Getty Images
Gareth Anscombe will start for the Chiefs. Photo / Getty Images

After a loss and a draw to date on their tour, Chiefs coach Dave Rennie says it's essential his side triumph in the final fixture of their road trip.

Rennie made five changes to his run-on XV to face the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, after which the Chiefs will return to the comforts of home.

Beating the bottom-placed side in Super Rugby tomorrow morning (NZT) will see the defending champions on top of the New Zealand conference with their South African swing behind them.

And considering they slumped to defeat against the Force and were staring at a second straight loss before a late revival against the Bulls, victory will render the away trip an unlikely success.

"It's essential we win," Rennie said. "The Force was a huge disappointment and just highlighted that, in this competition, you need to front every week. It was a pretty poor performance and, attitude-wise, it was a massive lift against the Bulls.

"So a win will do us - if we get a bonus point we'll be even happier - but a win is essential from a tour point of view."

Rennie has entrusted that task to the players who rescued the spoils against the Bulls. Gareth Anscombe, Tim Nanai-Williams and Augustine Pulu have all been promoted to the starting line-up, with Mils Muliaina, Anton Lienert-Brown and Tawera Kerr-Barlow dropping to the bench.

"It's certainly a reward for their injection into the game," Rennie said. "[Pulu] started against the Crusaders and injured his knee, so we've weaned him back in. There's good competition at 9 for that starting spot ... it means both those boys have got to front pretty well to fend the other one off.

"And likewise with Tim and Gareth - they were great off the bench last week and I'm expecting them to start like that this week."

The loose forward trio is the other area of the side to undergo an overhaul, with Michael Fitzgerald starting at blindside flanker, Liam Messam moving to No 8 and Sam Cane switching in for Tanerau Latimer.

That left the tight five unchanged and gave many of those in the lineout the chance to improve on a substandard performance against the Bulls.

"It was tough for [hooker] Rhys [Marshall] last game from a lineout point of view," Rennie said. "We had a good look at our lineout and we've made some shifts to make the job a little bit easier on our hooker.

"There's been an enormous amount of work gone in over a number of weeks but, in the end, we've got to get a better result."

That result will leave the Chiefs sitting pretty but, to achieve it, Rennie knows his charges need to take a step forward from last weekend.

"The attitude was sensational coming back, so we were really happy with the effort the boys put in. But we need to be a lot sharper in other areas."

- APNZ

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