Rugby: Injury costs Chiefs fullback but not favourite status

By Dylan Cleaver

Andrew Horrell will miss the action after failing to recover from a calf injury.
Andrew Horrell will miss the action after failing to recover from a calf injury.

A tricky week on the injury front just got a bit trickier for the Chiefs.
They have been forced to make a late change to their squad for their match against the cellar-dweller Blues, after fullback Andrew Horrell failed to recover from a calf injury.

The Hawkes Bay utility, who has been in sparkling form since replacing Robbie Robinson for the week eight match against the Cheetahs, left the field late in their win against the Bulls last week but was expected to recover in time for tonight's match.

Instead he has been scratched, with Robinson given an opportunity to restake a claim to the No15 jersey before the tournament goes into hiatus.

Tim Nanai-Williams, who was not expected to be fit for this match, has obviously recovered faster than expected and has been drafted on to the bench.

It is a timely boost for Southlander Robinson. In the corresponding fixture in Hamilton, way back on March 2, Robinson played the key part in the Blues' demise. Twice he carved apart a flimsy defensive line with breaks from deep, both of which resulted in five-pointers.

Coach Dave Rennie will have few qualms about the quality of replacements at the back, but there might be a few nervous twitches about the relative inexperience of the pack.

Captain Craig Clarke has proved a settling presence in the middle of the lineout, but has been ruled out with a twinge in his neck.

That will see impressive rookie Brodie Retallick paired with Manawatu grafter Mike Fitzgerald, who struggled a little against the Lions in his last start at Pukekohe.

While Ali Williams has not been in vintage form, he has 100 matches worth of experience at this level and enough nous to make life difficult for the Chiefs.

The Chiefs have the option of Romana Graham on the bench but given it is his first time out of civvies this season, it would be a big ask to expect him to come on and alter the course of a game.

The Chiefs have one thing the Blues haven't, however: confidence.

The Blues have won as many matches in 2012 as the Chiefs have lost - two - and for all the talk of anything can happen between neighbours, they will still start as unloved underdogs.

The rugby public in Chiefdom clearly expect another notch on the win stick.

They have bought up large for the only home match of the season remaining - the potential New Zealand Conference decider against the Crusaders on July 6.

About 10,000 tickets have been snapped up already, by far the most pre-sold this far out from a game in Chiefs history.

Blues v Chiefs North Harbour Stadium, 7.35 tonight

Rudi Wulf, Lachie Munro, Francis Saili, Ma'a Nonu, Rene Ranger, Michael Hobbs,
Alby Mathewson, Luke Braid (c), Daniel Braid, Steven Luatua, Ali Williams, Liaki Moli,
Tevita Mailau, James Parsons,Tony Woodcock.

Reserves: Tom McCartney, Angus Ta'avao, Filo Paulo, Peter Saili, Piri Weepu, Hadleigh Parkes, David Raikuna.

Robbie Robinson, Maritino Nemani, Jackson Willison, S. Bill Williams, Asaeli Tikoirotuma
Aaron Cruden, T. Kerr-Barlow, Kane Thompson, Sam Cane,Liam Messam (c),
Brodie Retallick, Michael Fitzgerald, Ben Afeaki, M. Schwalger, Sona Taumalolo.

Reserves: Hika Elliot, Ben Tameifuna, Romana Graham, Scott Waldrom, Brendon Leonard, Tim Nani-Williams, Lelia Masaga.

- NZ Herald

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