Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Chiefs mix it up to keep players fresh

Coaches scrutinise their own performance after horror outing

Liam Messam returns for the Chiefs after a back injury. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Liam Messam returns for the Chiefs after a back injury. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The six changes to the Chiefs for their match against the Blues at Eden Park on Saturday are the most obvious sign of the coaches' dissatisfaction with the performance against the Crusaders last weekend.

However, Dave Rennie, Wayne Smith, Tom Coventry and co also put themselves under the microscope following the heavy 15-43 defeat in Christchurch and found themselves wanting.

Rennie said his team had been "out-coached", a failing that stemmed from his coaching staff wanting to freshen his players up. The structure of the week was changed - workloads eased a little, something that hasn't happened this week ahead of the final round of the regular season.

"You can't blame it all on just the players," Rennie said. "When you get beaten and beaten badly you have to look at everything you do. We changed the make-up of the week ... we thought it would freshen the guys up and it probably wasn't a good decision in hindsight. We had a lot of things tactically we wanted to put on the park and we didn't.

"We have to accept some responsibility for why the guys didn't front as well, so we looked at all parts of what we're doing to make sure we get it right this week."

It has had the desired result. Rennie said there had been a real edge to training, which probably isn't surprising given all of his players will consider themselves to be on notice.

There is a double change on the wings where Asaeli Tikoirotuma has been dropped to the bench and Patrick Osborne left out altogether. Robbie Robinson has moved from fullback to left wing, with Lelia Masaga on the right flank. Andrew Horrell, good as a substitute against the Crusaders - a rare positive on a poor night for his team - is rewarded with a start in the No15 jersey.

Toby Smith starts at loosehead prop, with Tim Nanai-Williams back at centre.

Perhaps the most significant change is the return of loose forward Liam Messam. A back injury suffered in training meant he missed the Christchurch match and his absence was keenly felt.

"He epitomises the Chiefs' mana in this group," Rennie said. "He leads from the front and he's extremely passionate."

A bonus point against the Blues will be enough for the Chiefs to top the New Zealand conference, but much still depends on the Stormers v Bulls match in Cape Town on Sunday morning. If the Bulls, two points ahead of the second-placed Chiefs, win they will guarantee themselves a home semifinal and, potentially, final.

High on the Chiefs' agenda will be an improvement at the breakdown and a greater importance placed on retaining possession.

"Like any side, if you give them [the Blues] opportunities you will get punished," said Rennie. "We need to look after the ball and if we kick we need to chase well. They've got a lot of game breakers. They're a proud team who have had a pretty good year and they'll want to finish well in front of their home crowd."


Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 27 Apr 2017 20:28:10 Processing Time: 426ms