With little over a fortnight until Super Rugby gets back into action, the Chiefs are enjoying a steady progression into familiar territory where solid preparation and making use of the wider squad will be key ingredients to success.

Assistant coach Neil Barnes has had a difficult time trying to contain the excitement within the playing group as 2020's second preseason gains momentum.

It would be foreign to just about anybody in Super Rugby to be putting together a game plan in May, but thanks to COVID-19 putting a halt on what was ultimately a disappointing end to normal proceedings, the Chiefs find themselves with a new opportunity to right some wrongs.

It is after all another preseason, except this time the entire playing group has been together as one unit from the moment of regrouping a fortnight ago.


What lies ahead for Barnes and his fellow coaches is a different kind of Super Rugby, eight straight matches against the other four New Zealand franchises starting with the Highlanders on June 13 in Dunedin.

The excitement from the players being back out on the grass and playing has had to be carefully managed, with a deliberate effort to take things slow.

"It's been a progression", Barnes said. "Last week was about getting back into our rhythm in terms of what we are doing in different parts of the field whereas this week the intensity and the contact has started to ramp up a lot more".

For Barnes, a coaching veteran who spent the last seven weeks on his farm away from anything close to rugby, being back in the Chiefs environment has re-ignited his love for the role and he understands the privilege of being a Super Rugby coach.

But it's also hard work, perhaps harder now as the new Super Rugby Aotearoa kicks into gear.

Traditional in their high physicality and intensity which is on par with an All Blacks test, the New Zealand derby matches are gruelling on players and Barnes was quick to throw out the notion of everyone being available to play every week.

"At the end of the day you can't be playing the same group week after week with that type of physicality and intensity, that is something we have talked about and it will be down to how well individuals prepare so the guys who have come in well prepared are likely to get the start".

Chiefs assistant coach Neil Barnes. Photo / Photosport
Chiefs assistant coach Neil Barnes. Photo / Photosport

As the primary forwards coach, Barnes will take on the bulk of the coaching in the scrums and lineouts but it's perhaps the work of the breakdown that the Chiefs will want to continue from their performances earlier in the year.


Lachlan Boshier was the biggest shining light for the Chiefs in their 6-2 run before the original season was canned. Making just the right play, often at the breakdown to force a turnover, proved critical in a couple of the big wins and the 25-year old's absence was noticeable in the occasions he wasn't there, namely in the upset loss to the Brumbies in week three.

Couple that with the ever-imposing Canadian international Tyler Ardron, a core part of the lineout these days alongside Michael Allardice, and the always reliable Sam Cane, these names featuring frequently for the Chiefs should hold them in good stead.

Furthermore, don't forget about loosie Luke Jacobson. It was at around this time a year ago that he first started to really wow the mainstream rugby public and his versatility is crucial should any of the former names get injured.

In those five names alone, the Chiefs have a mighty forward pack, but it won't be enough.

The trick to conquering this unique challenge for Barnes and his coaches, as it was earlier this year, is to have the proverbial 'next best' in this team being up to snuff and ready to perform at the same level.

There are many in that second rank category when you go down the list of this Chiefs team.


The good news is that there is still two more weeks for everyone to stick their hand up and make a claim. Those who put in the hardest of yards during lockdown are already ahead in the selection race and it will be fascinating to see just who those men are at the Chiefs.