Rugby: Rennie hopes enthusiasm will make up for Cruden's absence

The Chiefs will take the field against the Force without Aaron Cruden at Pukekohe on Friday night. Photo / Getty Images.
The Chiefs will take the field against the Force without Aaron Cruden at Pukekohe on Friday night. Photo / Getty Images.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has named an inexperienced backline minus the guiding hand of Aaron Cruden to play the Force but hopes enthusiasm will make up for the absence of the All Black.

Cruden started every game for the Chiefs last season - playing almost every minute - but Rennie has taken the opportunity to lighten the 24-year-old's demanding workload. He will start Friday night's match at Pukekohe's EcoLight Stadium on the bench after taking a very limited part in training this week.

Cruden has been carrying ankle, Achilles, thigh and groin niggles this season and Rennie is keen to allow him to recover a little ahead of a tough schedule before the play-offs.

Former Blues first-five Gareth Anscombe, who has been playing fullback for the Chiefs, will wear the No10 jersey, linking up with halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow, who is returning from six weeks out due to a broken jaw. The returning Robbie Robinson will start at fullback.

"By not starting [Cruden] we've been pretty much able to give him a week off the grass," Rennie said. "He's been out helping with our tactical things but he hasn't done any training on the grass. He's done a lot of rehab and off-feet conditioning so it's been really good for him."

Asked if it was a risk not playing Cruden after yet another injury-forced change to the midfield which sees Save Tokula make a rare start in the midfield next to the inexperienced Bundee Aki, Rennie said: "If things don't go well people will question that. But we've got a group of guys who have been training together since December. Our combinations have changed and we need to be able to adjust to that.

"We've got quite a lot of enthusiasm and obviously we've got Gareth chomping at the bit to play No10, Robbie is the same at No15 and we've got [wing] Patrick [Osborne] coming in for his first start since round one and Save coming in for his first start for us in the two years that I've been here.

"We're really happy. It's not the biggest backline in world rugby but Patrick coming in and Save coming in does give us a bit of size."

Anscombe's combination with Kerr-Barlow is a new one, but Rennie said the halfback had returned from his lay-off in good shape.

"He's in great nick. He's done a lot of work on his speed. He's had a bit of crook hamstring so he's be able to rehabilitate that really well and he's come back in better nick than when he left."

Prop Ben Afeaki returns to the starting line-up after five weeks out with an ankle injury after an excellent start to the season.

A bonus point win by the Chiefs would put them level on points with competition leaders the Brumbies, who have a bye this weekend.

Chiefs team to play the Force at Pukekohe's EcoLight Stadium on Friday, kick-of 7.35pm is: Robbie Robinson, Lelia Masaga, Save Tokula, Bundee Aki, Patrick Osborne, Gareth Anscombe, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Matt Vant Leven, Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Craig Clarke (c), Ben Afeaki, Hika Elliot, Toby Smith. Reserves: Mahonri Schwalger, Ben Tameifuna, Michael Fitzgerald, Tanerau Latimer, Augustine Pulu, Aaron Cruden, Asaeli Tikoirotuma.

- APNZ

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