Rennie backs bolter Rhys Marshall

BY DAVID LONG
Last updated 05:00 04/11/2012

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Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has defended the signing of New Zealand under-20 hooker Rhys Marshall for next year's squad.

Marshall has never played an NPC game, and spent the season playing for the Hawke's Bay under-20 side, but has won a Super Rugby contract ahead of more experienced options.

Former Chiefs loose forward Scott Waldrom questioned why Marshall had been signed without having played first-class rugby.

Waldrom tweeted: "Super Rugby shouldn't be about player development - that's what ITM is meant to be. Franchise contracting, it's not what you know, it's who you know."

However, Rennie has hit back against those criticisms.

"Maybe that comment was accurate a few years ago, when it [the NPC] was a 13 to 14-week competition and you only played once a week," Rennie said.

"It's not the development competition it used to be, it's a lot about playing and recovering.

"So with the Super Rugby season now going for nine months and the wider training group now coming in fulltime, I think Super Rugby is the competition where there is the most time to do quality development with players, whether that's through the wider training group, an extended squad, or part of your main squad.

"With Rhys, we made that decision based on what we know about him. We did a lot of research and we've seen him play a lot of footy.

"We asked a lot of people about him and we've got a couple of experienced hookers and we've got a young fellow who will be desperate to work hard, develop and learn while still being able to apply a bit of pressure to these guys.

"It certainly wasn't a decision that we made lightly, and like all selection decisions we've made, we put a lot of time into it and we're happy with our decision."

Rennie and the other coaches next season face a decision on how to replace Sonny Bill Williams.

Although the Chiefs have also lost Jackson Willison to the Blues, there are a number of options for the No 12 jersey.

"Andrew Horrell has played a lot at 12, he's a very direct player and is quite deceptive," said Rennie."We also have the potential to play Richard Kahui at 12. He gives us that bit of size there.

"Obviously Bundee Aki and Charlie Ngatai are signed and they both had very good ITM Cup campaigns. So we're really excited by that group. Sonny is a very special player and how we attack around the channels may vary slightly but the way we're trying to play won't change dramatically."

Meanwhile, Rennie believes signing first-five Gareth Anscombe from the Blues improves the quality of the Chiefs squad.

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"We're rapt to get the services of Gareth," he said. "I really rate him as a player. He's got an outstanding skill set and ability to control a game. There are parts of his game that he wants to work on and get better at, but he's got a great attitude and he's pretty desperate to be better . . . "

- © Fairfax NZ News

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