Chiefs take first step in bid for another title
It's back to square one for Super Rugby's defending champions.
Almost six months to the day after winning the title, the Chiefs take to the field today for their first pre-season match as they open their quest to become the fourth franchise to earn consecutive championships.
The Blues (1996-1997), the Crusaders (1998-2000 and 2005-2006) and the Bulls (2009-2010) have all enjoyed back-to-back successes and the Chiefs will be intent on starting the same way as they finished a magical 2012.
With the searing recent summer temperatures the players can expect an exhausting first outing this afternoon against the Highlanders at Owen Delany Park in Taupo, where the drinks breaks probably won't come quick enough.
After two weeks of pre-Christmas training and four weeks last month, the players are eager to get into game mode.
"Certainly a lot of guys have been training for a long time and are pretty keen to get out there and try a few things out, so it's exciting actually," Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said.
"We've been doing a lot of work but this will be the first time we really can work under pressure."
Rennie wants his side to quickly implement their defensive structure today as well as do the little offence-based things really well.
"What we'd be hoping is that our set piece functions well, the quality of our carry and efficiency of our contact support and all that sort of thing is really good, so we get fast ball, and then we can play off that," he said.
The Chiefs face the Highlanders in their first proper match of the season in Dunedin on February 22, and then again on March 22, so that adds to the intrigue of not showing all your tricks in the pre-season.
"We've got a lot of variation of things we do," Rennie said. "While we might have a certain set up, we may be going in a different direction.
"Pre-season you can paint some of those pictures and do different things. We're certainly not going to show everything, and I'd say other teams aren't either."
After today's fixture, the Chiefs have two further pre-season hitouts, against the Reds on the Sunshine Coast next Friday night, then against the Hurricanes the following Saturday afternoon in Mangatainoka.
The All Blacks in the Chiefs' squad only came back into training this week and won't feature today.
"We want to give them a couple of weeks of getting battered around before they take the field," Rennie said.
The Chiefs haven't named an official squad for today's match, but there are three players carrying injuries who won't be in action. Fullback Robbie Robinson is experiencing an unusually slow recovery from a fractured foot, which he suffered during the ITM Cup, hooker Mahonri Schwalger is out for another week with a knee problem, while centre Richard Kahui, who despite training, may be sidelined for a couple more weeks as he comes back from a dislocated shoulder.
Meanwhile, Rennie yesterday re-named Craig Clarke and Liam Messam as co-captains of the team.
"Having co-captains worked really well for us last year, so we decided to continue with it," Rennie said. "As far as leaders go, these two are highly respected by us all and epitomise what Chiefs mana is all about.
"They are both top blokes who compliment each other, work hard and bring a different skill set to the side."