Rugby: No 8 adds to Chiefs injury woes

By Kris Shannon

James Lowe and the Chiefs blitzed the Rebels in the first half of their win. Photo / Getty Images
James Lowe and the Chiefs blitzed the Rebels in the first half of their win. Photo / Getty Images

The attack showed signs of revival and the scrum was as strong as it's been all season but the Chiefs' win over the Rebels also brought a hefty dose of bad news.

No 8 Michael Leitch has been ruled out for two months after dislocating his thumb in the second half of Saturday night's 36-15 victory, requiring surgery that will cast doubt over his involvement for the remainder of the campaign.

The upcoming international break will account for the majority of Leitch's time on the sidelines but he will still be unable to return until the season-ending clash with the Highlanders, at the earliest.

And the Japanese captain's absence will be a big blow for a Chiefs pack that has been ravaged by injuries this season. The base of the scrum was one area of certainty for coach Dave Rennie, with Leitch playing almost every minute since being introduced in round two, starting nine straight games while providing strength in the carry and experience in the set piece.

The table toppers will lean on Tom Sanders and Maama Vaipulu for at least the rest of the regular season, causing disruption to a pack that had recently assumed a settled quality. Such continuity in selection saw the Chiefs produce one of their best performances at scrum time while easing past the Rebels, enjoying ascendancy over the visitors' pack no matter who was feeding the ball.

Hooker Nathan Harris would have been buoyed by his first Super Rugby start in almost two years, doing enough to retain his place for Friday night's trip to the Waratahs, with Rennie's only scrum concern surrounding his side's inability to better capitalise on such a solid platform.

An attack that in the first half made regular inroads into the Rebels defence soon regressed to the type of loose ball-handling that restricted the Chiefs' impact before the bye. But there was enough quality in the four tries scored in the opening 40 minutes to offer hope heading into the break.

While Seta Tamanivalu will likely miss the Waratahs match after his impressive evening ended with a rolled ankle, a ready-made replacement looms in Charlie Ngatai, with the midfielder set to return from a concussion lay-off.

And the focus for Ngatai and Co will be about replicating what worked in the first half on Saturday - and in the competition's opening rounds - but wing James Lowe believed such form was fickle.

"It was good in patches," he said of the attack. "It would be great to get back to those first six weeks and I don't think there's any magical formula. Some nights, it sticks, and some nights, it doesn't."

When it sticks, Lowe said it can be as enjoyable to play in as it is to watch.

"It's been fun. You look at that backline, even without Charlie Ngatai, it still had a wee bit of flair. It's exciting and it's contagious - everyone wants the ball in their hands."

- NZ Herald

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