Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Hard for combinations to gel, Cruden

Chiefs first-five Aaron Cruden needs a rest but must continue to support his injury-ravaged midfield. Photo / Getty Images
Chiefs first-five Aaron Cruden needs a rest but must continue to support his injury-ravaged midfield. Photo / Getty Images

His body could do with a rest but Aaron Cruden is more worried about how to gel a constantly changing Chiefs midfield for what will be a series of brutal matches against their New Zealand rivals.

The Chiefs play the Hurricanes in Wellington on Friday night and host the Crusaders in Hamilton a week later. A bye and the break for the June tests is followed by matches against the Hurricanes, Crusaders and Blues before the play-offs, if they make it.

The defending champions are without their top midfielders Richard Kahui (shoulder) and Tim Nanai-Williams (stomach ulcer), and have been missing the promising Charlie Ngataiwith a hamstring strain.

To add to the problems in the backline, regular fullback Gareth Anscombe has been ruled out until July with a broken foot.

The Chiefs' latest in a long series of midfield combinations featured Bundee Aki at second-five and Save Tokula at centre.

"Everyone knows the systems and structures we're trying to play but due to the injuries and new combinations coming in it can be quite hard to gel straight away," Cruden said.

"We're obviously trying our hardest and trying to play our natural games but at times it hasn't been as sharp as we would have liked."

That's something we're going to have to focus on this weekend because we know the Hurricanes will be keen for a big one in their first home game for a while after their South African trip."

The Chiefs have also been criticised for their leaky defence.

"I can't really put my finger on it," said Cruden of the late-game malaise. "It's happened to us over the last two or three weeks. The final quarter it's almost like we shut down and really battle to get our hands on the ball and apply pressure to the opposition."

Anscombe's injury late last week meant a quick change to the No10 jersey at Pukekohe for Cruden, who had been preparing himself for a place on the reserves bench.

He said the easier week left him fresher for the match and would probably benefit him for the Hurricanes match too after a range of injury issues. He added his goalkicking success against the Force - six from six - had surprised him.

- APNZ

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