Rugby: Chiefs' depth already invaluable

By Kris Shannon

Tawera Kerr-Barlow of the Chiefs runs out the ball during the round five Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Stormers . Photo / Getty Images.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow of the Chiefs runs out the ball during the round five Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Stormers . Photo / Getty Images.

The Chiefs' attack is warming to its work and last season's top scorers are unlikely to be disrupted by a loss of key personnel.

Friday's five-try victory over the Stormers was the first time this year the Chiefs' played with true potency, aided by a care for the ball absent in their opening two matches.

And ahead of Saturday night's visit to Perth to face the Force, coach Dave Rennie is expecting his side's fluency to substantially improve as the campaign progresses.

After doubling their season try tally in Hamilton, the Chiefs now lead the competition in metres made per match (555.7m), clean breaks (10.3) and offloads (14.0), illustrating the torrid time opposition defences face trying to contain their high-powered attack.

In any other team, that power would be in danger of decreasing due to the long-term losses of Charlie Ngatai (calf), James Lowe (knee) and Robbie Fruean (heart). But the Chiefs can easily introduce a similar-quality trio to bolster the backline, illustrating just why the champions' depth is seen as a key factor in their ability to retain the title.

"There wouldn't be many teams that could have five pretty quality backs out and still field a quality backline,'' Rennie said. ``It's crucial and that was the plan when we were recruiting.

"We wanted to make sure we got real high quality and we got a lot of flexibility within the squad. We've got guys who play multiple positions and that helps us through this as well.

"While we've lost a handful of guys in the weekend, you've got guys like Mils Muliaina and Andrew Horrell to come back into the mix, so the timing's good from that point of view.''

Muliaina was rested entirely for the Stormers clash while Horrell has yet to make a start this season. Regular wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma should play in place of Lowe, while the squad is further strengthened with the additions of the recovered Augustine Pulu, Sam Cane and Ben Afeaki.

Rennie believed, in Pulu and Tawera Kerr-Barlow, he had two of the best three halfbacks in New Zealand and he declared an open competition for the No 9 jersey.

"Whether we start [Pulu] or he comes off the bench, we'll make that decision in the next couple of days,'' Rennie said. ``There's not a hell of a lot between those boys. I know one's an All Black and one's not but they're both very good halfbacks.''

Regardless of who feeds the scrum on Saturday night, Rennie knows the Chiefs will encounter a challenge against the Force, who sit in seventh but have scored the third-most tries in the competition.

"They've been pretty impressive. They've scored eight tries in the last couple of weeks, which just shows they're playing a different style of footy. They're obviously really well prepared, as all of the Aussie sides are.

"And they're always difficult to beat in Perth, so we'll certainly be going over there with the attitude that we're going to have to front big-time to get the points.''

- APNZ

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