Chiefs look to build on opening-game success

Liam Messam takes on the Crusaders defence.
Liam Messam takes on the Crusaders defence.
Lelia Masaga has a cut at the Crusaders defence.
Lelia Masaga has a cut at the Crusaders defence.
Asaeli Tikoirotuma is downed by Owen Franks.
Asaeli Tikoirotuma is downed by Owen Franks.
Fans in full voice as the Chiefs take on the Crusaders.
Fans in full voice as the Chiefs take on the Crusaders.
Andrew Horrell in action for the Chiefs in their regular season finale win over the Blues.
Andrew Horrell in action for the Chiefs in their regular season finale win over the Blues.
Ben Tameifuna on the charge for the Chiefs.
Ben Tameifuna on the charge for the Chiefs.
Bundee Aki scores at full stretch against the Blues.
Bundee Aki scores at full stretch against the Blues.
Aaron Cruden converts a try during the Chiefs' win over the Blues.
Aaron Cruden converts a try during the Chiefs' win over the Blues.
Ross Filipo of the Chiefs tackles Dan Carter of the Crusaders after a kick in the Crusaders in goal during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Ross Filipo of the Chiefs tackles Dan Carter of the Crusaders after a kick in the Crusaders in goal during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Aseli Tikoirotuma of the Chiefs celebrates his try with Ben Tameifuna during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Aseli Tikoirotuma of the Chiefs celebrates his try with Ben Tameifuna during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Aseli Tikoirotuma of the Chiefs runs with the ball during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Aseli Tikoirotuma of the Chiefs runs with the ball during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Aaron Cruden of the Chiefs runs with the ball into defender Tom Marshall of the Crusaders during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Aaron Cruden of the Chiefs runs with the ball into defender Tom Marshall of the Crusaders during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Lelia Masaga makes a break against the Hurricanes, with Matt Vant Leven in support.
Lelia Masaga makes a break against the Hurricanes, with Matt Vant Leven in support.
Tim Nanai-Williams attempts to bust through the Hurricanes defence.
Tim Nanai-Williams attempts to bust through the Hurricanes defence.
Matt Vant Leven climbs high to win a lineout against the Hurricanes.
Matt Vant Leven climbs high to win a lineout against the Hurricanes.
A see of Chiefs flags welcomes the NZ conference leaders ahead of their game against the Hurricanes.
A see of Chiefs flags welcomes the NZ conference leaders ahead of their game against the Hurricanes.
Liam Messam charges ahead against the Crusaders.
Liam Messam charges ahead against the Crusaders.
Aaron Cruden goes in to score the opening try against the Crusaders.
Aaron Cruden goes in to score the opening try against the Crusaders.
Tanerau Latimer (left) and Tawera Kerr-Barlow wrap up George Whitelock of the Crusaders.
Tanerau Latimer (left) and Tawera Kerr-Barlow wrap up George Whitelock of the Crusaders.
Robbie Robinson in action against the Crusaders.
Robbie Robinson in action against the Crusaders.
Liam Messam charges into the gap for the Chiefs against the Hurricanes.
Liam Messam charges into the gap for the Chiefs against the Hurricanes.
Aaron Cruden gets a kick away under pressure from Hurricanes lock Ben May.
Aaron Cruden gets a kick away under pressure from Hurricanes lock Ben May.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow spins it wide against the Hurricanes.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow spins it wide against the Hurricanes.
Prop Ben Afeaki charges into the open for the Chiefs.
Prop Ben Afeaki charges into the open for the Chiefs.
Robbie Robinson of the Chiefs competes for a high ball against Kyle Godwin of the Force.
Robbie Robinson of the Chiefs competes for a high ball against Kyle Godwin of the Force.
Brett Sheehan watches the Force and Chiefs packs contest a scrum.
Brett Sheehan watches the Force and Chiefs packs contest a scrum.
Ben McCalman of the Force is tackled by Matt Vant Leven during their Round 13 Super Rugby clash.
Ben McCalman of the Force is tackled by Matt Vant Leven during their Round 13 Super Rugby clash.
Bundee Aki celebrates after scoring a try against the Melbourne Rebels.
Bundee Aki celebrates after scoring a try against the Melbourne Rebels.
Sam Cane (second from left) is congratulated by team-mates after scoring against the Melbourne Rebels.
Sam Cane (second from left) is congratulated by team-mates after scoring against the Melbourne Rebels.
Gareth Anscombe goes in to score against the Melbourne Rebels.
Gareth Anscombe goes in to score against the Melbourne Rebels.
Brendon Leonard (right) takes on his opposite number Nick Phipps of the Melbourne Rebels.
Brendon Leonard (right) takes on his opposite number Nick Phipps of the Melbourne Rebels.
Bundee Aki dives over for a try during the Chiefs win over the Sharks at Waikato Stadium.
Bundee Aki dives over for a try during the Chiefs win over the Sharks at Waikato Stadium.
Asaeli Tikoirotuma attempts to break through a Sharks tackle.
Asaeli Tikoirotuma attempts to break through a Sharks tackle.
Liam Messam helps carry the load against the Sharks in Hamilton.
Liam Messam helps carry the load against the Sharks in Hamilton.
Ben Tameifuna on the charge against the Sharks.
Ben Tameifuna on the charge against the Sharks.
Aaron Cruden spins it wide against the Waratahs.
Aaron Cruden spins it wide against the Waratahs.
Gareth Anscombe streaks away from the Waratahs defence.
Gareth Anscombe streaks away from the Waratahs defence.
Sitaleki Timani receives a yellow card.
Sitaleki Timani receives a yellow card.
The Chiefs huddle under the posts after conceding a try to the Waratahs.
The Chiefs huddle under the posts after conceding a try to the Waratahs.
The Reds' Quade Cooper is tackled by the Chiefs' Aaron Cruden during their clash in Hamilton.
The Reds' Quade Cooper is tackled by the Chiefs' Aaron Cruden during their clash in Hamilton.
Chief Bundee Aki goes over to score a try against the Reds in Hamilton.
Chief Bundee Aki goes over to score a try against the Reds in Hamilton.
Richard Kahui of the Chiefs dives over to score a try during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Richard Kahui of the Chiefs dives over to score a try during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Michael Fitzgerald of the Chiefs charges forward during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Michael Fitzgerald of the Chiefs charges forward during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Aaron Cruden with the ball during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Aaron Cruden with the ball during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Richard Kahui on the charge during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Richard Kahui on the charge during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Liam Messam receives a greenstone mere from former Chiefs coach Ian Foster during a special presentation to celebrate his 100th game for the Chiefs.
Liam Messam receives a greenstone mere from former Chiefs coach Ian Foster during a special presentation to celebrate his 100th game for the Chiefs.
Andrew Horrell comes up just short in his dive for the try line.
Andrew Horrell comes up just short in his dive for the try line.
Tim Nanai-Williams is congratulated after scoring the Chiefs' only try in their win over the Highlanders.
Tim Nanai-Williams is congratulated after scoring the Chiefs' only try in their win over the Highlanders.
Richard Kahui makes a break in his return for the Chiefs during their win over the Highlanders.
Richard Kahui makes a break in his return for the Chiefs during their win over the Highlanders.
Liam Messam fans show some love for the Chiefs co-captain's 100th game celebrations.
Liam Messam fans show some love for the Chiefs co-captain's 100th game celebrations.
Aaron Cruden fends off Highlanders counterpart Colin Slade.
Aaron Cruden fends off Highlanders counterpart Colin Slade.
Liam Messam gets his side fired up during his 100th Super Rugby game for the Chiefs against the Southern Kings.
Liam Messam gets his side fired up during his 100th Super Rugby game for the Chiefs against the Southern Kings.
Lelia Masaga makes a run during his triple-try scoring effort against the Kings.
Lelia Masaga makes a run during his triple-try scoring effort against the Kings.
Andrew Horrell makes a break for the Chiefs during their bonus point win over the Southern Kings.
Andrew Horrell makes a break for the Chiefs during their bonus point win over the Southern Kings.
Hika Elliot in action against the Southern Kings.
Hika Elliot in action against the Southern Kings.
Liam Messam charges ahead for the Chiefs.
Liam Messam charges ahead for the Chiefs.
Tanerau Latimer looks to spread the ball wide.
Tanerau Latimer looks to spread the ball wide.
Sam Cane charges headlong into the Stormers' defence.
Sam Cane charges headlong into the Stormers' defence.
Stormers wing Bryan Habana is tackled during the Super Rugby match between DHL Stormers and the Chiefs.
Stormers wing Bryan Habana is tackled during the Super Rugby match between DHL Stormers and the Chiefs.
Brodie Retallick gets an offload away.
Brodie Retallick gets an offload away.
Liam Messam on the charge.
Liam Messam on the charge.
Tim Nanai-Williams tries to evade a tackler.
Tim Nanai-Williams tries to evade a tackler.
Gareth Anscombe goes over to score for the Chiefs against the Cheetahs.
Gareth Anscombe goes over to score for the Chiefs against the Cheetahs.
Liam Messam tries to avoid the tackle of Ma'a Nonu during his side's opening round win over the Highlanders.
Liam Messam tries to avoid the tackle of Ma'a Nonu during his side's opening round win over the Highlanders.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow clears the ball during the Chiefs' win over the Highlanders.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow clears the ball during the Chiefs' win over the Highlanders.
Gareth Anscombe gets caught in a tackle on his Chiefs debut against the Highlanders.
Gareth Anscombe gets caught in a tackle on his Chiefs debut against the Highlanders.
Patrick Osborne dives over for a try against the Highlanders.
Patrick Osborne dives over for a try against the Highlanders.

The Chiefs will be sticking with their successful but makeshift backline for the next three matches at least as they look to build on their opening-game success in Super Rugby.

But they have hopes of getting at least one, if not both, their experienced hookers back sooner after a sensational debut by 20-year-old rookie Rhys Marshall in the 41-27 victory over the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday night.

The Chiefs pack their bags and head to South Africa on Sunday afternoon for a two-match tour after this Saturday's first home game against the Cheetahs at Waikato Stadium.

PERFECT BEGINNING: Liam Messam and Chiefs have started their defence of the Super Rugby season with a win over the Highlanders but Taine Randell doesn't think they will win the competition.
PERFECT BEGINNING: Liam Messam and Chiefs have started their defence of the Super Rugby season with a win over the Highlanders but Taine Randell doesn't think they will win the competition.

It appears that won't be enough time for the injured backline quartet who missed the opener - Richard Kahui, Robbie Robinson, Andrew Horrell and Brendon Leonard - to get themselves right in time to travel.

"It's likely they will all be out and won't be back prior to us getting back from South Africa," Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie said yesterday.

The top two hookers in the squad, Mahonri Schwalger and Hika Elliot, missed Friday's match with Schwalger needing more time to return from off-season knee surgery and Elliot straining a calf muscle at last Wednesday's main pre-match training run.

Schwalger should be in contention to play this week and travel to South Africa, after he was a late switch out of the team on Friday morning, having been named to replace Elliot in the starting lineup.

Elliot's injury is not as bad as first thought, now described as a one to three-week injury, giving him an outside chance of touring, depending on his progress this week.

Rennie admitted that the decision to start Marshall, who has yet to play senior provincial rugby, (although signed by Taranaki after playing under-20 rugby for Hawke's Bay while on a two-year farming course) was more a case of taking the pressure off Marshall by not naming him in the XV earlier as well as one of giving Schwalger more time to prove his fitness.

But there was no surprise among the Chiefs coaches about how well Marshall played in an 80-minute performance, having picked him from relative obscurity, again out of the New Zealand under-20 side.

"It was a special performance from a young fella who only found out that morning he was going to start.

"He did a good job in the set-piece stuff and around the field he's got a massive ticker and was involved in a lot of tackles, a lot of cleanout and a lot of carrying. He had a mighty game and we're really happy for him.

"Maybe it highlights the naysayers who didn't understand why we would pick a young fella who hadn't played NPC."

Once again it showed Rennie and the Chiefs are bang on in placing huge emphasis on character in recruiting players and this just follows on from the young tyro successes of last year like Brodie Retallick and Ben Tameifuna.

Of the other standout players for the Chiefs on Friday such as man-of-the-match flanker Sam Cane, fill-in centre Tim Nanai-Williams and impressive fullback and goal-kicker Gareth Anscombe, it was Nanai-Williams who was the most remarkable story.

Nanai-Williams, 23, was facing a huge challenge in switching from wing/fullback to centre in place of the injured Kahui and Horrell as it was, but after waking up in the middle of the night before the game suffering from vomiting and diarrhoea and spending the following day in bed it is a miracle he was able to front at all let alone score two tries and play a starring role.

"We thought we might get 30 or 40 [out of him] but at halftime he said he was still hanging in there and felt OK.

"We were going to take him off just prior to him getting beaten by Kade Poki but he didn't want to come off but by the time they scored again he was pretty wasted and came straight off, went in the shower, pulled up a chair and sat under the water for about 20 minutes," Rennie said.

Not rated, not bothered

The Chiefs are unconcerned about not getting much respect or recognition in some quarters, despite winning the Super Rugby title last year.

Even the TAB didn't rate the Chiefs prior to the kickoff of the season, and some critics were still not convinced they could win back-to-back championships even after last Friday night's impressive season-opening win in Dunedin. Last week assistant coach Wayne Smith spoke about adjusting to life as champions and thriving on being "overdogs" as opposed to underdogs but so far that is not the way it has panned out.

"We're not too concerned about what other people think," said Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie. "We were pretty confident we could win the [Highlanders] game even with the guys we had missing.

"Maybe a lot of people thought the Highlanders had picked up a lot of key players and so, as it turned out, we went in as the underdogs but we don't tend to talk about it.

"Our focus is on us putting a plan into practice on the field against the enemy, and it doesn't concern us whether people think we're favourites or not," he said.

It is human nature, however, that the Chiefs should expect some credit for their performances and therefore respect from critics, although no Kiwi team will ever be too troubled about being labelled underdogs.

Rennie points out that just within the New Zealand Conference it is difficult to nominate favourites when any one of the five teams is capable of beating any other, the competition is that close between them.

"Whether people think you are favourite or not it doesn't count for much," he said.

Waikato Times