Chiefs midfield ravaged ahead of quarterfinal clash

By Kris Shannon

Anton Lienert-Brown is the only recognised midfielder healthy for the Chiefs. Photo / Getty
Anton Lienert-Brown is the only recognised midfielder healthy for the Chiefs. Photo / Getty

If the Chiefs' playoff task appears much trickier than what was forecast a week ago, that challenge is only enhanced when assessing their midfield stocks.

Not only did the erstwhile leaders slump to sixth after Saturday's loss to the Highlanders but they suffered yet another injury setback, with Seta Tamanivalu ruled out of this weekend's quarter-final against the Stormers.

With both Charlie Ngatai and Andrew Horrell still suffering from concussion, the Chiefs have little in the way of tested midfield backs, outside of Anton Lienert-Brown. In fact, their options appear to be a rookie with 36 minutes of game time, a 20-year-old fullback and a one-time World Cup hero.

Stephen Donald looms as the most experienced option, having spent 15 minutes at second five against the Highlanders after Tamanivalu limped off with a knee injury. Donald has played only 115 minutes in his return to Super Rugby but has earned the coaches' trust, starring in the win over Wales and starting the crunch clash against the Crusaders.

When quizzed on the alternatives to Tamanivalu, coach Dave Rennie name-checked Sam Vaka and Sam McNicol, though both youngsters have drawbacks. Vaka has featured sparingly this season but at least has midfield experience with Counties Manukau, while McNicol has spent plenty of time on the paddock but almost exclusively as an outside back.

It's a headache for Rennie that may persist beyond the weekend, with Tamanivalu only a chance to be fit for any potential semifinal, and one that would have further soured the coach's mood after home advantage slipped through his side's fingers.

Even a draw against the Highlanders would have set up a quarter-final in Hamilton but the Chiefs were bested by the defending champions for a sixth straight time, sending them on an early-morning flight to Cape Town tomorrow.

There, they will encounter the unknown, given the Stormers have yet to face Kiwi opposition this season. The players are set for a stint of video analysis on the flight to the Republic and, when they complete their scouting, the Chiefs are unlikely to be too worried about what they see.

The Stormers have beaten only one other playoff side this season - a home victory over the Brumbies - while in May they were held to a draw against the last-placed Sunwolves. But, having headed into the playoffs with three defeats in their last six matches, Rennie was more focused on his own side.

"I haven't seen much of [the Stormers] at all, to be honest," he said. "I've done a bit of homework on other teams but we've got a bit of catching up to do. I've seen them play a few games but there will be a fair bit of focus on us - tidying up parts of our game."

- NZ Herald

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