Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Anscombe demotion raises goalkicking question for Chiefs

It's all change for the Chiefs as they attempt to re-discover their attacking edge against the Waratahs but a goalkicking replacement for Gareth Anscombe has yet to be settled on.

All Blacks' first-five Aaron Cruden had hoped to be kicking for goal by this stage of the season but his groin problem, which he has had since pre-season, means he has had to err on the side of caution. Goalkicking aggravates the issue.

It is the first time Anscombe, the former Blues first-five who has excelled at fullback until struggling to maintain the same standards in the 31-23 defeat by the Reds in Hamilton last weekend, has not started this season.

Coach Dave Rennie said Cruden was one option to take up the kicking duties, but so was Andrew Horrell, who will wear the No15 jersey, and Charlie Ngatai, starting at centre.

A final decision would be made after tomorrow's captain's run at Allianz Stadium.

"We've got a few options," Rennie said. "Aaron may take them ... or it could be Andrew Horrell, he's been kicking a lot lately and he's very good. If we have some shots from a long distance, Charlie Ngatai is an option. He's got a big boot on him and has been doing a fair bit of goalkicking as well."

Rennie has made six personnel changes to the team which was well beaten by the Reds. All are an attempt to spark an attacking renaissance in what will be a tough encounter on Friday night.

"On paper they're one of the best teams in the competition," Rennie said of the Waratahs. "They've got a lot of Wallabies and firepower in the backs. They'll be a handful if we allow them any space.

"We'd be incredibly disappointed if the response isn't critical in the weekend. It's a tough competition but we didn't quite get it right in the weekend and we got punished for it. We created a hell of a lot of opportunities but didn't finish."

The midfield switch of Richard Kahui to second-five - replacing Bundee Aki - and Ngatai to centre is one attempt to create something, as is the naming of Horrell ahead of Anscombe.

"Gareth's still learning the role at fullback. He's done a really good job and his goalkicking has been fantastic. But again, we've got some pretty good players who have been sitting on the bench watching and it's a long competition. Hozza played a lot at fullback last year and did a pretty good job and we think he'll give us a bit of spark back there.

"We've also had probably three weeks where we've created opportunities but haven't scored so we're looking for a change in personnel to give us a bit of spark so hence the reason we've got four changes in the backs."

Halfback Brendon Leonard replaces Augustine Pulu for his first start of the season. In other changes, prop Pauliasi Manu returns from a knee injury, replacing Toby Smith at loosehead, and Lelia Masaga returns from a back injury to the right wing.

There is also a reshuffle among the loose forwards.

Chiefs team to play Waratahs at Allianz Stadium in Sydney on Friday, kick-off 9.40pm NZT is: Andrew Horrell, Lelia Masaga, Charlie Ngatai, Richard Kahui, Aseali Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden, Brendon Leonard, Fritz Lee, Sam Cane, Liam Messam (c), Brodie Retallick, Michael Fitzgerald, Ben Tameifuna, Hika Elliot, Pauliasi Manu. Reserves: Rhys Marshall, Michael Kainga, Nick Crosswell, Tanerau Latimer, August Pulu, Gareth Anscombe, Tim Nanai-Williams.

Waratahs: Israel Folau, Cam Crawford, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne, Drew Mitchell, Bernard Foley, Brendan McKibbin, Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper, Dave Dennis, Kane Douglas, Sitaleki Timani, Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson. Reserves: John Ulugia, Paddy Ryan, Mitchell Chapman, Will Skelton, Pat McCutcheon, Matt Lucas, Ben Volavola, Peter Betham.

- APNZ

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