If "rugby recoded" is to be the mantra for Super Rugby in 2020, the Chiefs sure have lived up to the billing as they come into Round One following a pre-season full of the new and different.

Bringing in Warren Gatland was always going to have a big effect on the way things are done at Chiefs and an excited, energetic tone was clear in camp this week with the promise of more change to come.

Shorter team trainings at the highest level of game-like intensity has pleased the players, described by many as a fantastic concept that allows training at a more concentrated period but also regular amounts of recovery in between.

It is just one in a series of big changes. Due to the earlier season start, more planning and structure had to be put in place before the New Year and this meant that the big gun All Blacks would have to come into camp in early January and adjust to the swing of things, not the other way around.


This is evident in the squad that the Chiefs will roll out at Eden Park tonight. Many of the senior All Blacks aren't only restricted by playing minutes, but at least three of them must come off the bench and tilt the game toward victory, whereas they've previously been required to lay the early foundation.

The goal for the Chiefs on opening night is obviously to get the season started with a win, but it's the final game of the year that is the true goal.

The requirement to play good rugby is a given and little more than an appearance in the Super Rugby final on June 20 will satisfy.

Of course, what more could you expect out of a team coached by a man who has just about done it all?
Gatland has come back to the Waikato to direct the Chiefs back to the title heights achieved in 2012/13, preferably sooner rather than later.

But with all that, this is a Chiefs squad that doesn't appear to be under the Gatland thumb either.

There is little sense of weight and ego being thrown around, and nor should there be.

Remember the likes of Tabai Matson, Neil Barnes and Roger Randle have all had long periods of hands-on co-coaching with this team, but furthermore, they have a good connection with the players.

They were also there in 2019 when it was remarkable in itself that the Chiefs somehow managed to continue their eight-year playoff streak after that disaster of an 0-4 start.


They understand that it simply cannot happen again.Whether this fresh coat of paint and tweaks to the system will mean a better Chiefs side on the park remains to be seen, but not for long.

• Michael Pulman is a freelance journalist based in Hamilton. He will be providing weekly comment on the fortunes of the Gallagher Chiefs as the 2020 Investec Super Rugby season unfolds.