Rugby: Chiefs' versatility provides options

By Kris Shannon

Aaron Cruden. Photo / Getty Images
Aaron Cruden. Photo / Getty Images

As predictable as their results have been this season, the Chiefs' backline selections have been much more uncertain.

Co-captain Aaron Cruden was the only Chiefs back to start in all three of the champions' wins in the current campaign, and that kind of variation continued in the team named to play the Western Force tonight.

Coach Dave Rennie made three changes in his backline from last weekend's win over the Force and, while injuries have played a part, the selection reveals an area of strength.

With Mils Muliaina starting on the wing, Tim Nanai-Williams moving to centre and Gareth Anscombe continuing at fullback, the Chiefs again illustrated the flexibility that is a key part of their personnel.

On the bench, Andrew Horrell and 18-year-old Anton Lienert-Brown can cover for almost every back, while those starting in one position could well move to another before fulltime, allowing Rennie and co the ability to adjust for inevitable injuries.

The Chiefs make a point of emphasising the capacity to play multiple positions when recruiting and even players who had previously played in only one jersey throughout their career - such as Nanai-Williams or Anscombe - are quickly taught to excel elsewhere.

It leaves the team sheet in a constant state of flux but it also means the Chiefs always have another acceptable option when a player goes down.

"You obviously look for some specialists but, over the last couple of years, we've had quite a few injuries and it helps to be a little bit more seamless if our guys can move around and slot in and be confident in those spots," Rennie said.

"There wouldn't be many teams that would have, say, Robbie Fruean, Charlie Ngatai and Bundee Aki all out but still have four or five really strong options to play in midfield."

The Chiefs ended up opting for Nanai-Williams to partner Tom Marshall, leaving a well-rested Muliaina to counter the Force's kicking game from the wing. With the opposition sitting in the top half of the competition with 24 kicks from hand per game, Rennie expects that facet to go some way to determining the outcome of the match.

"The easy option probably would've been to play [Horrell] at 13. But we were pretty keen to get Mils on the field and we're expecting them to kick a lot, so there will be a lot of opportunities to counter.

"A lot of [their attack] is based around a good kicking game and the pressure around it, so we've got a job to do in regards to defusing their kicking game. If we do that well, then we'll get opportunities because they'll give us a bit of ball."

In the forwards, the Chiefs have made two changes from the side that beat the Stormers, with Michael Fitzgerald replacing Matt Symons at lock and Sam Cane coming in for Tanerau Latimer. It will be Cane's first action of the season and comes after Latimer played the full 80 minutes in consecutive games.

- APNZ

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