Rugby: Chiefs make wholesale changes to face Bulls

By Kris Shannon

Victor Matfield of the Bulls. Photo / Getty Images
Victor Matfield of the Bulls. Photo / Getty Images

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has indicated how unimpressed he was at last weekend's defeat to the Force by making eight changes to his starting side to face the Bulls in Pretoria on Sunday morning (NZT).

Prop Pauliasi Manu, hooker Rhys Marshall, lock Matt Symons, flanker Tanerau Latimer and No 8 Kane Thompson all return to the forward pack.

In the backs, 18-year-old Anton Lienert-Brown will make makes his debut on the right wing, Mils Muliaina moves to fullback in place of Gareth Anscombe, and Andrew Horrell starts at centre in place of Tim Nanai-Williams, who tweaked his hamstring in Perth and drops to the bench.

The Chiefs, who are still on top of the New Zealand conference but slipped to fifth overall after the defeat to the Force, are looking for their first win at Loftus Versfeld since 2001.

After struggling all season at the lineout, the Chiefs are set for a torrid time when they line up against the Bulls.

Put simply, Sunday morning's clash in Pretoria will feature the worst lineout side in Super Rugby facing one of the very best.

The Chiefs are well aware of their own weakness and their opposition's strength in the area. It would be ignorant to ignore such a disparity in ability, with the statistics suggesting the defending champions' best hope is for victory in spite of the set piece.

Of that, they are certainly capable. The Chiefs claimed their second straight title last season with a 79 per cent success rate in the lineout - the lowest number in the competition - and little has changed in the offseason.

Through four games, the Chiefs are the worst in the Super 15 with a 70 per cent mark, while their match average of 8.3 lineouts won (14th) and 3.5 lineouts lost (15th) also rank in the bottom tier of teams.

And those numbers could be even more discouraging, considering the successes include quick throws, a manoeuvre the Chiefs clearly favour for obvious reasons.

The contrast with the Bulls is staggering. The Pretoria side, after five matches, have a 93 per cent success rate (2nd), courtesy of winning an average of 14.0 lineouts (1st) and losing 1.0 (2nd).

"It's been an area of concern right through the season," said assistant coach Wayne Smith. "Our lineout has been a work in progress.

"We have made some progress but we're going to be up against the best lineout in the competition, with probably the best lineout forward in the world running it, in Victor Matfield."

Smith and co are right to be concerned. While Matfield ranks third with 19 lineouts won and three lineout steals, locking partner Flip van der Merwe is second with 20 wins and two steals.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, have just 16 lineout wins among their quartet of locks - Brodie Retallick, Michael Fitzgerald, Matt Symons and Kane Thompson.

It would be unfair to blame the Chiefs' output entirely on the jumpers, however, with the lifters and, in particular, the hooker also playing a large part. It is in the No 2 jersey where the Chiefs suffer most, with Hika Elliott out indefinitely due to a neck injury.

In his place, Mahonri Schwalger (67 per cent) and Rhys Marshall (63 per cent) have the lowest throw success rates in the competition, compared to Bulls hooker Callie Visagie's second-ranked 92 per cent.

The inequality means the onus will be on the Chiefs to avoid infringing virtually anywhere in the field, according to Smith, with the Bulls more than capable of driving the lineout, winning further penalties and kicking for points or into touch closer to the line.

"It's a huge challenge for our forwards,'' Smith said. "We've looked for strategies to try to deal with that but it's all about execution in the field.''

Chiefs side to play the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria, on Sunday (2am NZT): Mils Muliaina, Anton Lienert-Brown, Andrew Horrell, Tom Marshall, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden (c), Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Kane Thompson, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Matt Symons, Ben Tameifuna, Rhys Marshall, Pauliasi Manu. Reserves: Mahonri Schwalger, Jamie Mackintosh, Ben Afeaki, Michael Fitzgerald, Sam Cane, Augustine Pulu, Gareth Anscombe, Tim Nanai-Williams.

- APNZ

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