Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Chiefs' Horrell becomes centre of attention

Andrew Horrell. Photo / Getty Images
Andrew Horrell. Photo / Getty Images

It's a measure of Andrew Horrell's progress this season that the Chiefs have named him in the unfamiliar position of centre to take on the Crusaders tomorrow night.

Horrell, a converted first-five, has played mainly at fullback this season, but finds himself alongside Sonny Bill Williams in a midfield which will sooner or later have to come to grips with the fast feet of second-five Ryan Crotty and size and power of Crusaders centre Robbie Fruean.

The 23-year-old Horrell, in his first season of Super Rugby, came to the Chiefs via Hawkes Bay where his goalkicking and general game sense were crucial in their ITM Cup Championship victory last year.

Born in Christchurch, he made the move north because he couldn't see any future in a Crusaders area which contained Dan Carter, Tyler Bleyendaal and Tom Taylor.

Now he is tasked with the difficult job of stopping Fruean and other strike weapons Israel Dagg and Zac Guildford as the Crusaders look to bounce back from their shock loss to the Hurricanes in Christchurch last weekend.

Chiefs assistant coach Wayne Smith, who has masterminded the defensive structures at his new franchise, was confident Horrell could handle the new role in the absence of All Black Richard Kahui. Jackson Willison played centre in last weekend's win over the Highlanders but has been named on the reserves bench for the match at Waikato Stadium.

"He's got used to the patterns we us at the back where you have to stay alive. He knows what to do, it's not too complicated," former All Blacks assistant coach Smith said.

"Andrew has played first-five and second-five at Hawkes Bay and he has improved his speed markedly since he has been with us. It's important to continue his progress at this level. Jackson Willison has been a key player for us but a turn on the bench won't do him any harm."

Rotating players has already paid dividends for the Chiefs this season. The key areas have been at prop, hooker and flanker where Sona Taumalolo has been in and out, Mahonri Schwalger and Hika Elliot have swapped and Sam Cane and Tanerau Latimer have shared game time.

Horrell had forced Robbie Robinson out of the No15 jersey earlier in the season, but the former Highlanders player has claimed it back with some irresistible form.

Despite that Smith said Horrell should be well pleased with his progress which has earned him the nod in the No13 jersey.

"I think he's a guy who never thought he would play provincial rugby, let alone Super Rugby, so he has done very well so far."

- APNZ

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