Rugby: Chiefs facing halfback headache

By Kris Shannon

Tawera Kerr-Barlow suffered a concussion in the Chiefs' win over the Force. Photo / photosport.nz
Tawera Kerr-Barlow suffered a concussion in the Chiefs' win over the Force. Photo / photosport.nz

It wasn't long ago that Dave Rennie liked to say the Chiefs boasted three of the best four halfbacks in the country.

Next week, though, they may have to start a player with 18 minutes of Super Rugby experience.

That's the situation facing the Chiefs after Tawera Kerr-Barlow emerged a casualty from Saturday night's frustrating win over the Force, suffering a concussion that saw him leave the field at halftime.

Finlay Christie, who replaced Kerr-Barlow, has been suspended for three weeks after beingcited for trampling during the 16-7 victory in Perth.

Christie pleaded guilty and won't be back until round 14 leaving a question mark in a key position ahead of next weekend's encounter with the Sunwolves.

The Chiefs' much-vaunted halfback depth has this year been a distant memory, with Brad Weber suffering a season-ending knee injury at the Brisbane Tens and Augustine Pulu now excelling at the Blues.

And if Kerr-Barlow fails to pass the requisite tests this week, Rennie will have to call on a couple of unheralded reinforcements.

Twenty-year-old Jonathan Taumateine would almost certainly be handed the No 9 jersey, having initially not been among the Chiefs' contracted players. The Counties Manukau halfback was added to the squad when Weber went down, enjoying brief stints off the bench in the opening two rounds.

As for a reserve, the Chiefs would have to reach into their development squad, a group currently touring Hong Kong. One option would be Logan Crowley, who played for Canterbury in last season's Mitre 10 Cup before signing with Taranaki, while Bay of Plenty's Luke Campbell would be the other.

Such depleted stocks are a long way from possessing a trio of All Blacks but the short-handed Chiefs will be comforted in the knowledge it's unlikely to matter.

Having last year featured in the New Zealand under-20s squad, Taumateine should be more that capable of marshalling his side to victory on Saturday, with the Sunwolves' first visit to Hamilton coming at an ideal time.

The Super Rugby cellar dwellers will be a welcome sight for a Chiefs side looking to recover from an arduous three-game roadtrip to South Africa and Western Australia, accruing nine points while playing well only in patches. Few of those patches came against the Force on Saturday, a game in which the Chiefs failed to implement their usual expansive gameplan and, as a result, earned the ire of their coach.

"I thought we were bloody disappointing," Rennie said. "It was just bad decision-making. A bit too often we tried to push passes that weren't on and didn't hang onto the ball for long enough. We just had a mountain of opportunities if we'd gone one or two more rucks, but we didn't. It's frustrating but nice to think we're heading home."

Rennie will also be pleased by the imminent return of prop Nepo Laulala and loose forward Mitchell Brown, but the biggest smile will be saved for Charlie Ngatai.

The All Black midfielder played 40 minutes for Waikato club University on Saturday, his first action on a rugby field after 11 months filled with headaches and dizziness following concussion.

"It was great to see him back," Rennie said. "It's still probably a bit soon to throw him back in our mix next week, but we'll keep building on that. He'll be a massive asset for us long-term, coming back in the second half of the season."

- NZ Herald

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