Rugby: Joseph juggles his thin resources

By Dylan Cleaver

Tim Nanai-Williams will be looking for support from teammates tonight when his Chiefs clash with the Highlanders in their season-opener in Hamilton. Photo / Christine Cornege
Tim Nanai-Williams will be looking for support from teammates tonight when his Chiefs clash with the Highlanders in their season-opener in Hamilton. Photo / Christine Cornege

This is touted as a season of change at the Chiefs but the Highlanders have not been averse to some tinkering either, with four players making their debuts for the franchise tonight.

Coach Jamie Joseph, who swept clean with impressive effect last year, has endured a difficult build-up to the season opener, with injuries forcing his hand in key positions.

That has seen one-test All Black Tamati Ellison hop straight off a flight from Japan and into the starting 15.

He couldn't have been handed a much tougher assignment either, going head-to-head with Richard Kahui at centre.

Ellison made his All Black debut on the 2009 end-of-year tour and played against Italy at the San Siro and in the loss to the Barbarians at Twickenham.

In March 2010, he confirmed he had activated a get-out clause in his NZRU contract to sign a three-year deal to play for the Ricoh Black Rams.

English import James Haskell has also just arrived in the country from Japan and he has been placed on the bench as loose forward cover as Joseph juggles his comparatively thin resources.

Also making their Highlander debuts are wings Hosea Gear and Buxton Popoali'i, plus 62-test veteran Andrew Hore at hooker.

Haskell will have a chance of making his debut from the bench, as will former Chief Culum Retallick and Taranaki's Kurt Baker.

Not considered through injury were All Black lock Jarrad Hoeata (shoulder), Siale Piutau (ankle), Kade Poki (knee), Kenny Lynn (neck), Shaun Treeby (knee) and Ma'afu Fia (hamstring).

Most of the focus on the Chiefs has centred around the potentially devastating combination of Aaron Cruden, Sonny Bill Williams and Richard Kahui.

Also, more pointedly, whether the Chiefs' mainly no-name tight five can deliver them the front-foot ball they would thrive on.

That ignores an interesting clash in the outsides, where Robbie Robinson will take on his former teammates from fullback.

That means Tim Nanai-Williams, once considered Mils Muliaina's natural successor at No 15, will start on the left wing.

"Tim's got a bit of experience at 15, but Robbie hasn't played much on the wing so it was a logical step to have them lining up that way," said Dave Rennie, who will be making his debut as a head coach at this level.

"Tim will get his opportunities at fullback, but primarily he'll be at wing."

As for the perennial question of whether the Chiefs will get enough ball to wreak the sort of havoc that is expected from their all-star backline, Rennie has been impressed by what he's seen from his tight five in the pre-season.

"They're not as well known as those midfield backs, but they're honest buggers who work hard.

"We actually think we've got some depth in those positions and they'll get a chance to silence those critics tonight."

- NZ Herald

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