Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Chiefs must face another major break

Broken hand forces Kerr-Barlow out of action until after the June test window and slew of other players also unavailable.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow broke his arm at training. Photo / Getty
Tawera Kerr-Barlow broke his arm at training. Photo / Getty

Another major injury blow and another business as usual response from the Chiefs.

The Super Rugby leaders will be without Tawera Kerr-Barlow until after the June test window following confirmation the All Black halfback has broken his hand in a random incident in last week's match against the Hurricanes where he accidentally clobbered the back of Aaron Cruden's head.

They will also have to face the Sharks in New Plymouth tomorrow night without back rowers Tom Sanders and Maama Vaipulu and lock Michael Allardice - all of whom are suffering the effects of concussion. Also unavailable are in-form backs James Lowe and Charlie Ngatai.

But it has been a feature of the Dave Rennie coaching era that expectation are not adjusted in the face of injuries.

Several times this year they have had to deal with multiple injuries and yet the quality of their rugby has rarely suffered. The men who come on have all delivered and Rennie is of the view that has to be the case again when they face a Sharks team that will be confident after clinging on to beat the Highlanders last week.

"The positive thing around injury is that more guys get opportunity, it grows your depth, you learn more about individuals, and so on," Rennie said yesterday. "We've got a really good group, hard working. I know we're a pretty young side, but I'm really happy with the effort they put in. We've got a group of leaders who are doing a great job in bringing those young fellas through, they dedicate a lot of time to them outside of training.

"In the end, everyone suffers injuries, and you've just got to get on with it. No one looks back and says you win or lose because of injuries, it's just whether you win or lose. We'll have a reasonable side on the park this weekend and we won't be using injuries as an excuse."

Having already lost another All Black halfback, Augustine Pulu, to a broken arm, the Chiefs have had to call in Kayne Hammington to the bench. But despite being down to their fourth-choice, Kerr-Barlow's injury is likely to have more significance to All Blacks coach Steve Hansen than it does to Rennie.

By the World Cup last year, Kerr-Barlow had established himself as the No2 halfback behind Aaron Smith and was frequently making useful late cameos off the bench. His accuracy and speed of decision-making greatly improved and he was able to inject himself into tests and make a telling impact.

While Kerr-Barlow hadn't been in such rampant form in the early part of this year, he was still expected to feature in the June tests and be involved against Wales. But that won't happen now and arguably that opens the prospect of Kerr-Barlow's Chiefs teammate Brad Weber to further press his claim with the national selectors.

Weber has been in compelling form for the Chiefs and his running game, especially, has been prominent. Blessed with incredible pace and acceleration, Weber has been able to spark the Chiefs into some of the best attacking rugby the competition has seen in years. He's been keeping Kerr-Barlow on the bench in recent weeks, which is also why the Chiefs will feel they can continue to perform the way they want despite injuries.

Senior players such as Brodie Retallick, Aaron Cruden and Hika Eliot will be expected to help Rennie hammer home that message and ensure that the Chiefs capitalise on their "home" advantage.

Chiefs v Sharks
New Plymouth, 7.35pm tomorrow

Chiefs

Damian McKenzie
Toni Pulu
Seta Tamanivalu
A Lienert-Brown
Sam McNicol
Aaron Cruden (cc)
Brad Weber
Michael Leitch
Sam Cane (cc)
Taleni Seu
Brodie Retallick
Dominic Bird
Hiroshi Yamashita
Hika Elliot
Mitchell Graham

Chiefs: Nathan Harris, Siate Tokolahi, Kane Hames, James Tucker, Lachlan Boshier, Kayne Hammington, Andrew Horrell, Shaun Stevenson.

Sharks

Willie Le Roux
JP Pietersen
Paul Jordaan
Andre Esterhuizen
Lwazi Mvovo
Garth April
Michael Claassens
Daniel du Preez
Jean-Luc du Preez
Keegan Daniel (c)
Stephan Lewies
Etienne Oosthuizen
L Adriaanse
Kyle Cooper
Dale Chadwick

Sharks: Chiliboy Ralepelle, Thomas du Toit, Coenie Oosthuizen, Hyron Andrews, Jean Deysel, Stefan Ungerer, Joe Pietersen, Odwa Ndungane.

- NZ Herald

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