Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Chiefs once again fly under radar

Gareth Anscombe, unwanted by the Blues, is goalkicking at 93.75 per cent. Photo / Getty Images
Gareth Anscombe, unwanted by the Blues, is goalkicking at 93.75 per cent. Photo / Getty Images

With two wins and maximum competition points, the Blues are quite rightly gathering headlines.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, sit above them on the competition table - first in the New Zealand conference and second overall - by virtue of their comprehensive victories over the Highlanders and Cheetahs.

Amidst talk of how far the Blues can go this season and the poor starts of the Crusaders and Hurricanes (the Highlanders' bye after their loss means they are also keeping a low profile), the Chiefs are once again flying under the radar and it's worth turning the spotlight on the defending champions now going about their work in Cape Town.

Encouragingly for their long-term prospects, they're not happy. Coach Dave Rennie fired a rocket at his forwards after his team's 42-point victory over the Cheetahs in Hamilton and a day later he was still unhappy. The breakdown, an area where his players are earning a reputation as top operators (ahead of the Highlanders of recent seasons), was unacceptable to him.

And yet, they have a lot to be happy about. They have a few players still to find form, such as halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow, but appear to have uncovered yet another nugget in converted fullback Gareth Anscombe, unwanted by the Blues and who is goalkicking at 93.75 per cent. They also have a casualty ward which is becoming emptier by the week.

Utility back Andrew Horrell, one of the finds of last season, is about to return from a stress fracture of the foot and should get game time against the Stormers at Newlands on Sunday morning NZT, and, even more encouragingly, midfielder Richard Kahui is progressing well from shoulder surgery and is on standby to make the long trip to the Republic should he be needed.

Where Kahui fits into the equation with Tim Nanai-Williams excelling in the unfamiliar position of centre is unclear, but it's a good problem for Rennie and Wayne Smith to have. There could also be a case for starting Kahui's comeback in the less physical wing position, where he has done well in the past for the All Blacks.

The remarkable rise of tighthead prop Ben Afeaki is a comforter for Rennie, who also has a top operator up front in Pauliasi Manu. The hulking Ben Tameifuna, an All Blacks squad member last year, is biding his time.

The early-season trip to South Africa has come at a good time for the Chiefs. Their energy levels will be high and they will fancy their chances against the Stormers who looked sluggish in losing to the Sharks in Durban last weekend.

Next weekend Rennie's men play the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth.

- NZ Herald

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a1 at 02 Aug 2014 18:47:08 Processing Time: 535ms