Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Chiefs face big decision over Messam selection

Liam Messam in action for the Chiefs. Photo / Getty Images
Liam Messam in action for the Chiefs. Photo / Getty Images

One of the biggest decisions the Chiefs coaches face this week is whether to select Liam Messam to play the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth.

Messam, the most capped Chief, is on 99 matches for his franchise. He has played in all three of his team's matches this season - victories over the Highlanders and Cheetahs and the weekend's 36-34 defeat by the Stormers in Cape Town - and backs coach Wayne Smith admitted the selection of the All Blacks loose forward and Chiefs' co-captain would require plenty of discussion. The team will be announced on Thursday.

"We've got a couple of decisions to make there,'' Smith said. "Clearly it's a big decision given it would be his 100th. The ideal would be for him to play that in Hamilton [against the Highlanders], but Liam being Liam, he'll want to play every game so there's a bit of negotiation to go on yet.''

The Chiefs will enter the unknown at Nelson Mandela Stadium on Saturday morning NZT against the new kids on the block.

The Kings, tipped to struggle in their first season, have had a phenomenal start in winning their first game against the Force and losing 21-12 to the Sharks - also at home - most recently.

The Sharks failed to breach the Kings defence and had to settle for penalty kicks against a team coached by former Crusaders hooker Matt Sexton.

"We've had a good look at their pre-season and last couple of games and there will be no complacency among our camp,'' Smith said. ``I think they missed one tackle out of 107 in the weekend which is phenomenal and just says a wee bit about what they're playing for.

"They've been waiting a long time to get a province in this competition and they're not letting it go. They're tough and resilient and physical. They won't be too difficult to the Stormers, I think.''

Smith conceded the Stormers shocked the defending champions with their intensity at Cape Town.

"We went into the Stormers game knowing what to expect, knowing we had to steel up and handle that physical barrage but I think the intensity of it surprised a few of the players. They knew it was coming but the intensity at Newlands was a bit of a shock I think and we were clearly rattled at halftime.''

Smith said he was proud of the way his team regrouped despite being on the back foot for most of the game to almost steal an unlikely win at the end.

"The signs are positive but we're going to get the same this week,'' he said.

Hooker Mahonri Schwalger (knee cartilage) and prop Ben Tameifuna (family bereavement) have been replaced by Rhys Marshall, who played in the Chiefs' first two matches, and Michael Kainga, a wider training group member.

Smith said Schwalger's knee injury wasn't likely to be too serious.

- APNZ

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