The Chiefs are hopeful they will be without All Black Richard Kahui for only one season and in the meantime they are exploring ways to get the most out of him this year.
Kahui has announced he is off to Japan after the Super Rugby season in August to take up a two-season contract with Toshiba where fellow former Chiefs and Waikato players Steven Bates and David Hill are already well ensconced.
The 27-year-old centre/wing confirmed the main reason he was heading offshore to chase financial security so soon in his career was the run of shoulder injuries that have required four reconstruction surgeries in six years.
But Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie was quick to point out that technically Kahui could be back available for the Chiefs in February 2015, meaning he would miss only one Super Rugby season.
"He's certainly keen to be a Chief again and, barring injury, we'll only miss him for 2014," Rennie said.
Kahui said the reason he and fiancee Amy Rhodes had decided on a two-year contract was to retain the option of returning to Hamilton and the Chiefs, with the chance to have a crack at the 2015 World Cup.
With that in mind and with a desire to get the best out of him this year, the Chiefs have researched the cause of Kahui's shoulder injuries and are working with the player to improve his landing techniques in tackle situations.
"We're pretty confident we'll get him back on the park and he'll be as good as gold, but we're looking at a few things in and around how he lands because most of [the injuries] have been landing awkwardly and stretching that whole [shoulder] area and popping it out," Rennie said.
"We're doing a bit of homework in and around what he does on the training pitch and on the [match] ground to hopefully assist in not getting any more injuries in that area."
Kahui said assistant coach Wayne Smith was particularly keen for him to work on his falling techniques so it became instinctive.
"A lot of [my injuries] have happened when being tackled and falling with someone else falling on my back, so now we've identified that as a reason why it's happening we're just trying to modify that a bit," Kahui said.
"There's talk of judo and talk of everything but at the end of the day as long as I do all the stuff I can while I'm not playing, because when I am playing I don't want to go out there thinking about self-preservation. I want to go out there, play hard and do the best for the team."
The latest shoulder setback had forced him to think about overseas opportunities and Toshiba flew him to Japan and put an offer on the table.
In the meantime he said he would not be trying to protect himself this season ahead of his lucrative overseas stint and had assured his team-mates he wanted to leave on a winning note.
Rennie admits Kahui is a midfield key for them in the absence of Sonny Bill Williams, who is still a possibility to return in 2014 once his one-year NRL contract with the Roosters is up.
"We saw him [last year] playing the role of Sonny when they played inside and outside centre and we're still confident that will happen [this season] but it just might not happen at the start that's all."
Kahui has not given up hope of playing in the Chiefs' Super Rugby opener against the Highlanders indoors in Dunedin next Friday night, but realistically round two against the Cheetahs - the first home game - would appear the most likely scenario.
Keyhole surgery last Friday to repair scar tissue from last year's operation, that was causing him some discomfort and limiting mobility, have delayed his return but both player and coach report both times under the knife have proved successful.
"We're not going to rush him back in, we've got to make sure he is a hundy and he's very close.
"He's the ultimate professional, is in fantastic nick and he works really hard, so he's fitter and faster than he's been for a while and he's put on some size," Rennie said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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