Rugby: Messan has competition for Chiefs' No 8 position

By Greg Taipari

Liam Messam. Photo / Getty Images
Liam Messam. Photo / Getty Images

A new year means new challenges for All Black No 8 and last year's Chiefs captain Liam Messam.

His starting position in the franchise team he has been a part of since 2006, isn't guaranteed. With coach Dave Rennie not yet naming his captain - rugby pundits have to be thinking who is the favoured No 8 for the 2012 season?

Sure, Messam had a solid season for both the Chiefs and the All Blacks, with the 27-year-old only just missing selection for the World Cup squad.

There were even rumours he was told by Graham Henry to keep fit during the cup, just in case Richie McCaw wasn't able to play.

But what rugby fans have to look at is what fire power the Chiefs have in their loose forward ranks this season.

Fritz Lee was a standout in last year's ITM Cup for Counties and made a huge impact in his debut year with the Chiefs last year.

At 1.90m and 108kg he is devastating off the back of the scrum and when you are hit by the Fritz express, it's not a pleasant experience.

Lee could suffer a rookie's second-year blues this year as many of the Super 15 teams have seen him play and may have worked him out.

Despite the fact Messam has played 79 games and can play openside and, at a stretch, blindside - the ranks are overflowing with talent in that department too - he will face challengers for his place. You've got Tanerau Latimer, Scott Waldrom and two rising stars of the game, Alex Bradley and Sam Cane.

The challenge doesn't seem to be fazing the experienced Messam who has scored 18 tries for the Chiefs.

"Yeah, it's going to be interesting. I'm quite excited with the young talent we have here at the Chiefs. I think it's mixed in with a lot of experience as well and I think all the boys are itching to get out there."

Messam hasn't let the threat of a young gun trying to take his position from helping his team out.

"I've made sure I've worked hard during the off season, especially with the younger boys [in the team] I guess, trying to lead by example and just try and stay in front hopefully to inspire them to work hard."

Rennie said he hadn't yet made a decision on who would lead the Chiefs this season. He is expected to make that call in the next couple of weeks.

Likely candidates beside Messam could be Samoan captain Mahonri Schwalger, Hika Elliot or even Scott Waldrom.

Messam said the Chiefs were an exciting prospect this year with some of the new signings they had picked up during the off season.

"I'm really excited to see the Sonny Bill-Richard Kahui combination probably one of the biggest midfields you could get, and they are an exciting talent. So really looking forward to seeing that and also Aaron Cruden coming up here to steer the ship, I guess. It's going to be a good backline."

Messam said it would be a season Chiefs' fans wouldn't want to miss.

"We've made a huge effort to get out to the regions like Whakatane, Rotorua, Tauranga and places like that," Messam said.

"To get our fans behind us, it makes a big difference for the team when you get the support behind you, especially on the field."

The Chiefs will play three pre-season games, their first against the Rebels in Australia on February 3, followed by the Highlanders in Queenstown on February 10, and Hurricanes on February 17, in Taupo.

- APNZ

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