Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Chiefs win at top of hooker's to-do list

Next to victory over the Crusaders in Hamilton tonight, Hika Elliot is most hungry for a new ITM Cup team to play for - and a return to the All Blacks

Hika Elliot (left) believes the Chiefs can hold their own tonight. Photo / Getty Images
Hika Elliot (left) believes the Chiefs can hold their own tonight. Photo / Getty Images

Hika Elliot's immediate goal is to help his Chiefs team beat the Crusaders in tonight's blockbuster in Hamilton - but also high up on his to-do list is finding an ITM Cup team to play for this year.

He is in talks with several after being told by his previous one, Hawkes Bay, that he is no longer required, and hopes to make a decision in the next few weeks.

Hooker Elliot, contracted to the New Zealand Rugby Union until the end of next year, says he knows he could make much more money overseas, but at the moment he has little interest in playing abroad. The lure of an All Blacks jersey remains strong.

"My goal is to make it back into the All Blacks and I feel I still have a lot to offer the New Zealand Rugby Union and Chiefs rugby," he said. "I definitely want to stick around.

"I've been here for the last five years and I really enjoy this environment.

We've created an awesome culture here [at the Chiefs] so it would be hard to leave. We've got a few players leaving next year, so we'll see what happens."

Whether Elliot, who has played three tests for the All Blacks - his most recent against Ireland last June - makes it back into the national team remains to be seen. Initially out of favour with the selectors, he came back into the fold last year, but was not needed for the recent wider training group camp at Mt Maunganui.

Still only 27, he could well have a role to play in the near future but for the moment Steve Hansen and Co's options at hooker are Keven Mealamu, Andrew Hore and Dane Coles. The latter played four tests on the All Blacks European tour last year.

There are also some talented youngsters coming through in the form of 20-year-old Rhys Marshall, Elliot's teammate at the Chiefs, Liam Coltman at the Highlanders and Crusaders pair Ben Funnell and Codie Taylor.

Elliot and Mahonri Schwalger have shared the hooking duties at the Chiefs, with Marshall generally a back-up, but Elliot gets the nod for tonight's game after starting the past two matches.

In this fixture last year, won by the Crusaders, Todd Blackadder's men put huge pressure on the Chiefs lineout, something the southerners, who have some imposing leapers in Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano and Kieran Read in their ranks, will want to continue.

"They have the best lineout in the competition at the moment," Elliot said. "I think we're ranked 12th or 13th. It's going to be a real good opportunity for us to improve in that area, but we're expecting huge heat come lineout time.

"Every time they get the ball we just have to get up and really compete and try to disrupt their ball. They've got some awesome technicians there."

Similarly, the Crusaders' scrum has been impressive lately, but Elliot believes the Chiefs can hold their own there. Owen Franks' withdrawal with a hamstring injury is a blow for the Crusaders, who are already missing veteran hooker Corey Flynn with a similar injury.

"We're ranked second or third overall in terms of our scrum quality so if we can keep trending upwards that will be good for us. I think we're a pretty solid unit in terms of our scrum. It's going to be a huge challenge for us against a Crusaders scrum which has been dominating in the last couple of weeks but I think the boys are up for it."

As for the way the Chiefs have battled their way to victories recently after losing two on the trot to the Reds and Waratahs, Elliot said that didn't matter one bit.

"With us being on the top of the table, that's all we need to be doing. As long as we're winning and keep performing week-in and week-out, it doesn't matter how we win or what we win by, the rest of the table will take care of itself."

Chiefs v Crusaders
Waikato Stadium, 7.35pm today

Chiefs: Robbie Robinson, Patrick Osborne, Charlie Ngatai, Bundee Aki, A.Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden, T. Kerr-Barlow, Matt Vant Leven, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Craig Clarke (C), Ben Tameifuna, Hika Elliot, Pauliasi Manu
Reserves: Mahonri Schwalger, Toby Smith, Michael Fitzgerald, Sam Cane, Augustine Pulu, Dan Waenga, Lelia Masaga.

Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Tom Marshall, Ryan Crotty, Tom Taylor, Zac Guildford, Dan Carter, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read (C), Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Nepo Laulala, Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett
Reserves: Ben Funnell/Laurence Corlett, Joe Moody, Dominic Bird, Luke Whitelock, Willi Heinz, Robbie Fruean, Telusa Veianu.

- APNZ

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