Rugby: Brodie Retallick back to face the Blues

By Kris Shannon

Brodie Retallick injured his ribs in the Chiefs' loss to the Lions last month. Photo / Getty
Brodie Retallick injured his ribs in the Chiefs' loss to the Lions last month. Photo / Getty

It's almost unfair for a top-of-the-table team to recall a man only two years removed from being named world player of the year.

But that's the situation greeting the Chiefs ahead of Friday night's clash with the Blues in Hamilton, adding Brodie Retallick to a side already firing fully in almost every facet.

The All Black will return after suffering broken ribs in last month's shock loss to the Lions, having watched from the sidelines as his teammates strung together four straight victories, each more impressive than the last.

His inclusion, then, almost feels like a luxury, though there's no doubt coach Dave Rennie would have been counting days until he could again write Retallick's name as one of the first on every teamsheet. The Chiefs' pack has in the past month laid a solid platform for their explosive attack while boasting only one true lock, with Michael Allardice joined by the makeshift but capable duo of Johan Bardoul and Taleni Seu.

And if the presence of the marauding Retallick weren't enough of a test for a Blues team missing their own All Black lock in Patrick Tuipulotu, the Chiefs will also welcome Dominic Bird into the second row, set to make his maiden appearance after moving north from the Crusaders.

"It's fortunate that we have those guys coming back in at this time and they're desperate to play," said coach Dave Rennie. "We had a lot of discussions around it...[but] in the end we just decided they were both ready to go."

Retallick and Bird will add physicality in the contact area and certainty to the set piece, particularly a scrum that this season has experienced a few struggles, even in last weekend's brilliant victory over the Brumbies.

While Retallick's exploits are well known for both franchise and country, Bird represents something of an unknown quantity. The two-test All Black was granted an early release from the Crusaders after last year making only four appearances, falling behind in a pecking order topped by Sam Whitelock and Luke Romano.

Eager to once again prove himself, Bird sustained a fractured foot in pre-season training, but has spent the last several weeks building up his contact work and will on Friday form with Retallick a formidable combination.

"It's obviously Dom's debut and he's contributed a hell of a lot off the field in regards to out lineout, so he's pretty excited to get out there," Rennie said. "They both had really good training weeks last week and we just felt that perhaps they were a little underdone, which is why we didn't take them to Canberra."

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Retallick isn't the only World Cup winner being brought back into the matchday squad. Tawera Kerr-Barlow will continue his personal battle with Brad Weber for the No 9 jersey, earning a spot on the bench after missing the last two matches courtesy of a concussion sustained against the Jaguares.

But although the reinforcements mean the Chiefs can finally see light at the end of their injury tunnel, the competition leaders have lost another couple of players to minor niggles. Toni Pulu will be replaced by Shaun Stevenson on the right wing and Tom Sanders has ceded his blindside spot to Maama Vaipulu, but both crocked players should be free to return following their side's bye.

The Chiefs team to play the Blues in Hamilton on Friday night:

Damian McKenzie, Shaun Stevenson, Anton Lienert-Brown, Charlie Ngatai, James Lowe, Aaron Cruden (c), Brad Weber, Michael Leitch, Sam Cane (c), Maama Vaipulu, Brodie Retallick, Dominic Bird, Atu Moli, Hika Elliot, Mitchell Graham

Reserves: Rhys Marshall, Siate Tokolahi, Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, Taleni Seu, Sam Henwood, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Seta Tamanivalu, Sam McNicol

- NZ Herald

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