Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Kahui back but Kerr-Barlow out

Richard Kahui.  Photo / Getty Images
Richard Kahui. Photo / Getty Images

Richard Kahui may have returned unscathed for the Chiefs but another key All Black, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, is facing six weeks on the sidelines after breaking his jaw.

The dynamic No 9, who made his test debut in November last year, played 80 minutes in the win over the Highlanders and it was only yesterday morning that the extent of his injury became clear. X-rays confirmed his jaw was broken and he will undergo surgery this week.

Former All Black Brendon Leonard was due to to play for the Chiefs development team yesterday but was withdrawn as a precaution. Leonard broke his cheekbone in a pre-season game but will now most likely have to return to action off the bench against the Blues on Saturday. Augustine Pulu, who has impressed off the bench, will take over from Kerr-Barlow, who is targeting a return in early May.

In better news for the Chiefs, Kahui is still a little apprehensive following his catalogue of shoulder injuries but his 30-minute shift against the Highlanders on Friday night proved he can still hack it.

He is prepared to start Saturday's crunch match against the Blues. The only question could be where he plays - second-five or centre - in a Chiefs midfield bursting with options.

Either way, it's a good problem for coach Dave Rennie. Having seen his team grind out a 19-7 victory over the Highlanders, who were inventive and committed at Waikato Stadium, Rennie's team remain flying high and, with reinforcements such as All Black Kahui coming back, are getting stronger by the week.

"It's good to be back. It's a long time since I played footy - 10 months or something," Kahui, sporting a cut on his nose, said. "There was obviously a little bit of apprehension before the game, a little bit of nervousness, but to get through half an hour of footy, and get a few touches, I felt really good.

"I feel like I ticked a few boxes tonight. If I was asked to start [on Saturday against the Blues], I would happily start. I still have to earn that starting spot. Guys like Tim [Nanai-Williams], they've been playing well, and Charlie Ngatai as well, so it's no given that I'd start now that I'm healthy."

Kahui's first act was to chase Hosea Gear as the Highlanders, intent on stretching the game in an attempt to tire the Chiefs following their return from South Africa, ran everything in a sometimes helter-skelter match which reaped only two tries - to Nanai-Williams and Aaron Smith.

The 27-year-old Kahui tested both shoulders on defence and displayed few touches of rust - his timing as he ran on to a short ball and burst through suggested he had never been away.

"After that first ball carry, I felt really comfortable," he said. "I really wanted to get into the game. When you come off the bench, sometimes you can float around and not touch the ball, so I wanted to be proactive and run off the forwards and get a few touches. I felt like I did that. I felt strong in the contact area."

It was appropriate that Kahui, who replaced wing Lelia Masaga in the 49th minute but slotted into centre, with Nanai-Williams moving out one, was pressed into defence early because the Highlanders asked many questions of the Chiefs. In the first half, the Highlanders could have scored four tries before halfback Smith darted around an attacking scrum.

"The Highlanders, they obviously thought, well, they've travelled, let's run them ragged, let's test them early on," Kahui said. "In the first 20 minutes, there was some really good Chiefs defence."

Rennie described the victory as gutsy and was pleased with Kahui.

"He's twice the size of our other backs, so he gave us a bit of go-forward. It's pretty exciting to have him back," Rennie said. "He's done a lot of work. He's got a few adjustments to make in his tackle technique but he will take a lot of confidence out of tonight."

Chiefs 19 (T. Nanai-Williams try; G. Anscombe con, 4 pens), Highlanders 7 (A. Smith try; C. Slade con). Halftime: 13-7.

- APNZ

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