Sometimes the best indication of how good a player is comes when he or she is not playing.

Weird as that logic may seem, the opening 20 minutes of the Chiefs' match against the Jaguares in Rotorua on Friday night showed that without the injured Sam Cane the Chiefs are pale impostors of when he is leading from the front. And it got worse as the game went on.

Whether smashing into tackle after tackle, cleaning up messy ball, winning turnover possession, inspiring as captain and his excellent link play, he proved to be irreplaceable.
The Jaguares needed to be smashed hard in the tackle early on to remind them that beating the Blues is one thing but getting past the Chiefs is a whole different challenge.

Cane epitomises what former Auckland and Blues coach Pat Lam used to say when I had the pleasure of working with him — "it is not the tackle you make I look for but how quickly you get up to make the next one".


So without Cane, the Argentina boys ran amok on the pristine playing field of the Rotorua International Stadium to record a famous victory that should have been by a much wider margin.

One of Rotorua's proudest sons in Liam Messam had to play out of position at openside to cover Cane. It was sad to see the ageing warrior reduced to chasing shadows for 80 minutes.

Bay of Plenty young gun Jesse Parete made a huge contribution off the bench on debut and deserved more minutes.

The other disappointment with the Chiefs is playing key personnel out of position.

I know there will be plenty who will disagree with me but Damian McKenzie is not a first five in my view. He is an instinctive, attacking genius from fullback who is absolutely at his best running the ball from deep and finding mismatches and gaps with his startling pace.

Wearing 10 instead of 15 he has no room for such heroics and lacks the tactical nous of a genuine first five such as Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo'unga.

By playing him at 10, the team's best midfielder Charlie Ngatai was shifted to fullback. When you are as good as he is, you can play anywhere but without him the Chiefs midfield had no idea how to break through the frequently offside Jaguares defence.

Ngatai and Anton Lienert Brown make up one of the best midfields in Super Rugby and would not look out of place in the All Blacks together. Lienert-Brown did not have a strong game up to his standards and missed the leadership Ngatai brings.

In Ngatai's place the Chiefs again played the unknown Alex Nankivell. Hard to know how he got selected ahead of Bay of Plenty midfielders Terrence Hepetema and Lalakai Foketi in the Chiefs' original squad. Note to selectors — not everyone who played for Christchurch Boys' High School First XV is top class.

But credit where it is due. The Jaguares are a boost to a failing Super Rugby competition that desperately needs something to interest fans other than brutal New Zealand derby matches.

The South Americans bring an exuberant style of playing, particularly how they receive the pass on the advantage line at pace, their natural passion and colourful fans.

Four wins on their road trip to Australia and New Zealand give them a real chance of finals football. Good luck to them.