Rugby: Troops marshalled for road trip

By Kris Shannon

It'll be a true test of the Chiefs' depth as they tackle a gruelling schedule of nine consecutive games.

Brodie Retallick has recovered from his concussion. Photo / Getty Images
Brodie Retallick has recovered from his concussion. Photo / Getty Images

The reinforcements are ready for the Chiefs and, before an arduous schedule over the next two months, their arrival is not a moment too soon.

Coming off their early bye, the defending champions now kick off a stretch of nine consecutive games, starting with the visit of the Stormers on Friday night.

That's followed by a three-week road trip to Perth and South Africa, with their next free weekend set for the middle of May.

It's the first time in Dave Rennie's tenure he has faced such a schedule and it will provide a true test of the depth the Chiefs count among their main assets.

Crucially, that depth has been significantly boosted after the players enjoyed an opportunity to put their feet up last weekend, allowing the injury crisis that enveloped their early season to ease.

In the last couple of years we've got quick ball and [this year] the ball's been too slow
Dave Rennie

The Chiefs managed to win their first two matches despite a casualty list in double digits and, with the cavalry coming back, they will be confident of sneaking past the Stormers to make it three victories on the trot.

Brodie Retallick and Ben Afeaki have recovered from the concussions they received in a sickening head clash in week one, while Tom Marshall and Gareth Anscombe are possibilities to make their first appearances. Augustine Pulu could recover from his knee complaint to provide back-up for Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Sam Cane is also a chance to shake off the knee injury he received in preseason.

The presence of that extra personnel may not disrupt the starting XV too severely but the numbers will prove their value in the gruelling weeks to come. "That's the advantage of getting a few back," Rennie told Radio Sport. "We're going to have to manage our players through that process." As well as helping with their health, the bye also allowed the Chiefs a chance to assess their campaign to date, conducting a review to pinpoint any imperfections in the opening rounds.

Two areas found deficient were also problems from last year, ranking as the worst in the competition in lineout success rate (79 per cent) and time in possession (14.01 minutes). So far this season, the lineout is again last (70 per cent) and the possession stats are second-bottom (13.25m).

The set piece received significant attention during the bye week and Rennie felt his team needed to improve their work at the contact area to provide more ball in hand.

"In the last couple of years we've got quick ball and [this year] the ball's been too slow. We've looked at the quality of our carry and the quality of our contact support in generating that."

That will be especially important against a Stormers side featuring a fit-again Schalk Burger, with Rennie expecting another tight tussle against one of the competition's best defences.

"If you can recycle quick ball you can put them under pressure because they've got less time to organise their defence. So that's what we're looking for every game. It's an area where we feel we're nowhere near where we have been and it needs to be better."

Chiefs' upcoming schedule


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