Rugby: Depth is key in Chiefs' quest for three-in-a-row

By Kris Shannon

Savvy recruiting and a history of success mean defending champions are well placed to overcome gruelling schedule.

Brodie Retallick. Photo / Stephen Barker
Brodie Retallick. Photo / Stephen Barker

There are a number of obstacles a defending champion must clear to remain at the front of the field.

Some can be controlled, like individual complacency causing standards to slip. Others, such as the competition closing the gap, are outside influences.

The detrimental factors can be intangible - a lack of desire after already achieving goals - or more concrete - an arduous schedule designed for parity.

This Chiefs team, though, appear as well-equipped as any champions to rise above the impediments and repeat their Super Rugby success.

Video

After Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith turned a collection of under-achievers into a team of serial winners, it should be unsurprising to hear the Chiefs' singular target is to become the second side to claim three straight titles.

"I think all teams start out with that goal - you want to win it," Rennie said.

"But once you've won it, anything other than that would be a disappointment."

To prevent that disappointment, the champs must first ensure they avoid straying far from the impossibly-high standards for which they have become known.

"Obviously we're aware of that and we've talked about it, but we've got a pretty determined bunch," Rennie said.

"Everyone's accountable and our leaders do a great job of driving that."

While some leaders did depart following victory over the Brumbies last August - Craig Clarke left for Ireland and Richard Kahui went to Japan - the Chiefs retained plenty of players who added a second title to their collection.

Aaron Cruden, who played all but 26 minutes last season, replaced Clarke as Liam Messam's co-captain, while the young All Blacks core of Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane and Tawera Kerr-Barlow are another year closer to their peak.

Then there's the experience added from elsewhere, with former favourite Mils Muliaina once again set to grace Waikato Stadium, and Robbie Fruean, Tom Marshall and Jamie Mackintosh joining the mix.

The new additions have also boosted the Chiefs' already-enviable depth, and strength in numbers is imperative when navigating the powerful New Zealand conference.

The Chiefs will get an early look at their main rivals, travelling to the Crusaders tomorrow to play the team they have conquered in the previous two semifinals.

Video

But Rennie was equally impressed by opponents offshore.

"It's such a tough comp, to have to play all the Kiwi sides twice, with a bit of travel.

"We go to Pretoria and Bloemfontein this year, and a lot of the Aussie sides are looking stronger, too.

"It's a tough comp and you've got to get it right for a long part of the year. So depth is crucial and we've got a fair bit of that."

The new faces offer one more advantage, one which will allay fears that those who have sprayed the champagne twice could be lacking the thirst for a third dousing.

Muliaina, for example, experienced six unsuccessful seasons with the Chiefs before watching from afar as his former teammates broke the hoodoo.

Naturally, he wants to join the fun, while his fellow recruits will undoubtedly remind their more-fortunate peers that they too are after the ultimate prize.

"The guys already here understand how hard we've worked to achieve success in the past, then we've got a lot of other fellas who were brought in and are desperate to win a championship," Rennie said.

"So it's a pretty good blend."

Whatever blend the Chiefs have concocted at their base near the Ruakura research facility in Hamilton, they appear to have found the formula required for Super Rugby success.

The rest of the competition would be wise to respect the chemistry.

The ones to watch

Star man: Brodie Retallick
Aaron Cruden has serious claims to being the Chiefs' most important player, but on this occasion we're going to celebrate a lower-profile player of immense power, skill and work rate _ in fact, everything that is good about the Chiefs. Retallick is a key performer in the lineout but he probably hurts opposition teams more around the ruck. His cleanouts are, frankly, terrifying.

New man: Robbie Fruean
Midfielder Fruean has a new heart valve to pump blood around his massive frame and a desire to reach a consistency of performance that he couldn't quite reach at the Crusaders. He says his fitness is better than at any other time over the past four years, which could be a concern for opposition defences. The Chiefs lacked a big man in midfield last year following Sonny Bill Williams' departure. Fruean provides that size and could be another inspired signing by the champions' brains trust.

- APNZ

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n2 at 25 Jul 2014 11:41:34 Processing Time: 781ms