Rennie's recruiters turning overlooked pieces of coal into sparkling diamonds

The Chiefs conditioning and skill level have been highlighted as crucial factors behind their success this year but perhaps the real star of their show has been the Super Rugby franchise's recruitment strategy.

The Chiefs are the competition's greatest wheeler-dealers; they are the ultimate nugget finder. Their franchise is built predominantly on men who grew up supporting other clubs.

What's particularly clever about the way they work is that they scour the country - not to find the obvious stars of the future - but to poke around the players others have left behind. The Chiefs are a home for waifs and strays; a place for the unwanted to gather and then unify in their bond to prove everyone wrong.

Remember, Canterbury didn't find a place for Brodie Retallick in their academy. They saw a big lump when he was at Christchurch Boys' High School who was more interested in proving why his nickname was "guzzler".


Whatever Canterbury thought about Damian McKenzie, they never had the chance to tell him as the former Christ's College pupil signed as a Waikato and Chiefs player.

Their record in these miracle conversions - of seemingly dragging a piece of coal to Hamilton only to unearth a diamond - is unparalleled and they show no signs of losing their magic touch.

They have a host of young players - barely out of their teens - who have already made a significant contribution to this campaign and look like keepers - all of them.

Anton Lienert-Brown is another who starred in Christchurch schoolboy rugby but committed to the Chiefs and is starting to look like he could be a player with special abilities.

Shaun Stevenson was at Auckland Grammar School and he's settled well in his rookie season. Mitchell Karpik, the King's College No7, no doubt would have shown that he's a livewire openside had it not been for injury and Atu Moli, the former head boy at Nelson College, is holding his own in the scrums and getting about in the loose.

The other player who epitomises the effectiveness of their recruitment process is lock-loose forward Taleni Seu. The 21-year-old could in time to prove to be one of the best finds of the Dave Rennie era. Seu is a 2.02m former basketballer whose athletic ability is extreme. He's played at lock and flanker for the Chiefs and impressed in both roles to the extent that it was hard to determine to which he was best suited.

What's fascinating is that he went to Onehunga High School and was missed by the entire Auckland talent identification programme. His break came last year when he was called up to the Auckland squad due to injuries, took his chance and on the back of that, the Chiefs pounced.

They have locked him in for two years and from what they have seen so far, will be looking to extend that. The final piece of the Chiefs recruitment jigsaw is the way they have been able to take good players and turn them into great players.

First-five Aaron Cruden was struggling at the Hurricanes, even reduced to playing off the bench in 2011 which is why he initially missed the Rugby World Cup.

He shifted to the Chiefs, set the game on fire and won the title.

Sonny Bill Williams went from so-so with the Crusaders to phenomenal with the Chiefs and Charlie Ngatai, quiet and unnoticed at the Hurricanes is now the form second-five in New Zealand.