As the Chiefs manoeuvre through a taxing road trip ahead of their second away match in Super Rugby Transtasman, the prospect of a Covid-jolted upcoming schedule is clouding their preparations.
Coach Clayton McMillan and his men have a date with the Reds in Townsville on Saturday night as they look for their third win on the trot. Further south, the state of Victoria will be in the midst of a seven-day lockdown that will end next Thursday night at the earliest.
The shutdown of the state has seen the Highlanders' matchup with the Melbourne-based Rebels – initially set for Queenstown – moved to Western Sydney's Leichhardt Oval on Sunday.
The Chiefs are likely carrying out a mental exercise coaches urge never to do – think beyond the task at hand. However, it is hard to blame them as a scheduled tie with the Rebels in Hamilton in a little over a week could also be implicated.
"It's a concern, we feel for the people in Melbourne and the Rebels. We've come to learn that with this virus you take nothing for granted, you need to be ready to pull the trigger on alternative plans if the need arises," McMillan says.
"We've talked about it on the way over here and our manager's in meetings to discuss alternative plans for us, we play the Rebels next week so for us, there's a lot of things to factor in.
"We're also mindful that the following week after that we've got to come back to Sydney, so she could be a busy ol' time."
McMillan says if their upcoming travel plans have to be changed, then so be it.
"We want to play. We don't want a week off or we don't want the Rebels or anyone to be disadvantaged by not playing, we want to see this competition through in its entirety," he says.
"Sometimes you've got to put what you want to the side and do what's best for the game. If we stay here or end up having to travel back and then coming back a couple of times, it's less than ideal but we'll suck it up and do it."
For the meantime, the Chiefs will have to do their best to stay focused and prepare for the Australian-champion Reds, who will be hell-bent on immediate redemption following their embarrassing 35-point loss to the Crusaders.
McMillan has made six changes for Saturday's clash, with the starting front row freshened with hooker Bradley Slater and tighthead Angus Ta'avao named to start in place of Samisoni Taukei'aho and Sione Mafileo.
Prop Reuben O'Neill is set to make his return from concussion off the bench.
"[O'Neill has been out] for the best part of about six weeks now, so it's a great time to reintegrate him. In the tighthead space, Angus has established himself as a starting tighthead and certainly did a great job of that last week," McMillan said.
Pita Gus Sowakula gets the nod at blindside ahead of Liam Messam, who drops to the bench.
Three reserve spots feature brackets with O'Neill and Ollie Norris, Zane Kapeli and Josh Lord, and Shaun Stevenson and Bryn Gatland vying for the 17, 19 and 23 jumpers respectively. McMillan says they will get a better idea of who they will need closer to kick-off.
The Chiefs also have recent history on their side. They have won their last five against the Reds by an average of 25 points, and have 14 wins in their last 16 against Australian opponents.
Chiefs: Kaleb Trask, Bailyn Sullivan, Anton Lienert-Brown, Alex Nankivell, Chase Tiatia, Damian McKenzie, Brad Weber, Luke Jacobson, Lachlan Boshier, Pita Gus Sowakula, Tupou Vaa'i, Mitchell Brown, Angus Ta'avao, Bradley Slater, Aidan Ross
Reserves: Samisoni Taukei'aho, Reuben O'Neill/Ollie Norris, Sione Mafileo, Zane Kapeli/Josh Lord, Liam Messam, Xavier Roe, Quinn Tupaea, Shaun Stevenson/Bryn Gatland