Rugby: Chiefs overhaul forward pack

By Kris Shannon

The Chiefs scrum struggled during last week's loss to the Lions. Photo / Getty
The Chiefs scrum struggled during last week's loss to the Lions. Photo / Getty

Any doubts about Dave Rennie's dissatisfaction with his side's scrum were extinguished with a glance at a teamsheet covered in red pen.

The Chiefs coach has made eight changes from last weekend's shock home loss to the Lions, naming six new faces among the forwards to clash with the Kings in Port Elizabeth on Sunday morning (NZT).

Two alterations had an air of inevitability, with Brodie Retallick's broken ribs and Michael Leitch's return to fitness showing the injury gods both giveth and taketh. But the remaining changes in an overhauled forward pack were all about form.

A brand new front row will be tasked with settling a scrum that has been less than impressive during the competition's early rounds, with Japanese tighthead Hiroshi Yamashita omitted altogether.

While the problem against the Lions came at the opposite side of the scrum, Yamashita will be replaced by Siate Tokolahi while New Zealand under-20s captain Atu Moli is promoted to the bench.

Tokolahi will pack down with Nathan Harris and Mitchell Graham to culminate, after similar issues were present in the opening victory over the Crusaders, what has been a lengthy search for answers.

"The major issue we had with the Lions was their tighthead being able to get into our hooker, and that put an enormous amount of pressure on our scrum," Rennie said. "But they came off the bench last week, all three of those guys, and did a reasonable job.

"We had a really good scrum session [on Wednesday] and may have come up with some solutions around how we can be more competitive in that area. I'm pretty confident that we'll get a far better showing than we did last week, even knowing that the Kings may be excited by the opportunity to scrummage against our boys.

"It'll be a test - and it's going to be a test every week for us - but I think we've made some good shifts."

Another shift has seen natural loose forward Johan Bardoul handed the unenviable task of taking Retallick's spot in the second row, while Leitch and Auckland youngster Taleni Seu will form a revamped loose forward trio alongside Sam Cane.

"Johan's played a little bit of lock for us and he's trained a lot as a lock," Rennie said. "Ultimately, we're pretty keen for Taleni to have a bit more of a roaming role, but that may interchange a bit."

The backs have a much more settled appearance, with the attack hardly struggling for tries in the early weeks. But Brad Weber will earn his first start of the season in place of fellow All Black Tawera Kerr-Barlow, beginning a halfback battle that will progress throughout the campaign.

"Tawera has been really good, we've been really happy with him, and Brad's come off the bench and just sped things up," Rennie said. "His speed to the ruck and distribution deserves a start, and those two will share a lot of game time throughout the year."

The only other alteration to the backline sees league convert Glen Fisiiahi given his first Super Rugby start, a bow that would have arrived a fortnight early had injury not intervened.

Chiefs team to play the Kings in Port Elizabeth on Sunday morning (NZT):

Damian McKenzie, Glen Fisiiahi, Seta Tamanivalu, Charlie Ngatai, James Lowe, Aaron Cruden (c), Brad Weber, Michael Leitch, Sam Cane (c), Taleni Seu, Johan Bardoul, Michael Allardice, Siate Tokolahi, Nathan Harris, Mitchell Graham.

Reserves: Rhys Marshall, Pauliasi Manu, Atu Moli, James Tucker, Maama Vaipulu, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sam McNicol.

- NZ Herald

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