Rugby: Familiar faces absent from Chiefs' line-up

By Kris Shannon

Aaron Cruden. Photo / Stephen Barker
Aaron Cruden. Photo / Stephen Barker

There are always some certainties at Chiefs games.

The Waikato Draught will flow in the stands, a cacophony of cow bells will greet every opposition shot at goal, and the name of either Liam Messam or Aaron Cruden will be present in the starting XV.

Until this weekend. The Chiefs host the Rebels tomorrow night and, for the first time in more than six years, neither of the defending champions' co-captains will feature in the run-on side.

While Cruden has started every match since he arrived with Dave Rennie for the 2012 season, Messam had an even more impressive streak before the pair joined the franchise.

The loose forward had played three straight seasons without missing a start, meaning a round four match in the 2008 Super 14 was the last time the Chiefs could turn to neither Messam nor Cruden in times of need.

Cruden's absence was forecast, after breaking his thumb in the draw with the Cheetahs last week, but Messam's exclusion was more unexpected. He's been named on the bench for the meeting with Melbourne, as coach Dave Rennie opts to rest the influential All Black after another heavy workload early in the campaign.

Messam has been ever-present in the Chiefs' six matches and, while the temptation was strong to again include the iron man once Cruden was ruled out, the brains trust in Hamilton had long since selected Saturday night as the ideal time for him to put the feet up.

"We picked this week a month ago before we left for South Africa," said forwards coach Tom Coventry. "Obviously with Aaron breaking his thumb, we had the option to reconsider whether we rested him for this game, but we decided to rest him.

"He's played every minute of every match and we thought it was prudent we continue on with our plan. He'll play a role this week with us but it'll be off the bench."

With their pair of leaders on the sideline, the Chiefs hardly have far to look for replacements. Super Rugby centurion Tanerau Latimer will wear Messam's No 6 jersey, while a well-prepared understudy in Gareth Anscombe takes the reins at first five. And a man the Chiefs coaches think of as a leader-in-waiting, 22-year-old Brodie Retallick, will assume the captaincy duties.

"Brodie has a massive leadership role in our team anyway," Coventry said.

Anscombe has yet to start in the No 10 jersey since joining the Chiefs - with an immovable object blocking his presence - but his displays in training have convinced the Chiefs they are in safe hands.

Bundee Aki returns to link outside of Anscombe, while Tasman utility Tom Marshall gets his first crack at fullback. Lock Michael Fitzgerald and prop Jamie Mackintosh complete the changes from the starting XV that allowed the Cheetahs to build a big lead last weekend. APNZ

- APNZ

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