Is Brodie Retallick the best lock in world rugby?
Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie certainly believes so and on the big second rower's continuing outstanding form this year it is hard to argue with him.
Retallick was again a shining light in the Chiefs' 24-16 win over the Hurricanes at Waikato Stadium on Friday night and not just because of his 60th-minute try.
A star of the All Blacks' tight forward effort as a test fixture at the tender age of 23, Retallick is the most consistent performer and one of the hardest workers for the Chiefs in Super Rugby and in fact it is hard to remember him ever playing a bad game since his debut as a little known 20-year-old in 2012.
"By a long way, I reckon," was Rennie's response on Friday night after the match to a question as to whether Retallick was the best lock in world rugby.
"He's just phenomenal. If you look at the amount of work he gets through the numbers are phenomenal," he said.
"The quality of his carries, the amount of tackles he's making, his ability to clean out, steal pill, dominate the set-piece - the big fella's pretty impressive."
Add quite a turn of pace for a 2m, 121kg tight forward, incredible fitness and a quality skill set and you have the prototype modern international second rower.
"Because he carries and carries aggressively he can square up defence but he's good enough to shift the ball, throw it back door - he's got a hell of a skill set, Brodie.
"He's massive for us and we need another big one out of him next week."
It was easy to forget that Retallick did not train for the first two days last week while he rested a hip injury that removed him from the field in the previous week's loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin, but the rest obviously did him good.
Rennie said the Chiefs' coaches were conscious he had played a lot of rugby, having been used by the All Blacks in almost every minute of the 3-0 series clean sweep over England while Super Rugby took a break last month.
Retallick was typically modest about his own contributions on Friday night but enthusiastic about the overall lift in intensity from the Chiefs just when they needed it to stay alive in the battle for a playoff position.
"That was probably a performance that we've been looking for, for a while; we wanted to out-muscle them up front and we talked about how long it had been since our forward pack had either dominated or at least got the edge on an opposition forward pack," Retallick said.
"I think it was a step in the right direction, especially with the playoffs coming up. It was do or die for us tonight and it was good to get the win the way we did."
Retallick said while there was some improvement in finishing scoring opportunities against the Hurricanes they would have to be even better at it against the Blues this Friday night at Eden Park and said taking into account the Blues' form he expected it to be a try-fest.
The Chiefs' physicality up front shaded that of the Hurricanes who had put 45 points on them six weeks earlier and even though there were some early scrum problems the lineout was probably the best it had been all season with Retallick a towering figure in the middle of it.
"I think there's a bit of confidence there now so it always helps when the boys are confident and it's easier for the hookers, so it's good to get some good ball so the backs can play with it and I think they showed that well tonight," he said.
Retallick said he was not sure whether he was at the peak of his powers at the moment and said he was always striving to get better, but when asked about his try his face broadened into a huge smile.
"It's the first one in a while and probably in my head I thought, 'I'm just going to go for it anyway, no matter what', so it was good to get over the line and get a try. I'm pretty sure I got it down when I first slid over the line but he did well to get a hand under it [after that]."
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