Hika Elliot's recovery down to high fitness
All Blacks hooker Hika Elliot credits his superb physical condition for making what Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has termed a miracle recovery.
Elliot tore his calf during training on Wednesday last week, ruling him out of the Chiefs' season opener against the Highlanders in Dunedin two days later.
But the Hawke's Bay rake has somehow managed to recover in time to play at Waikato Stadium tomorrow night for the reigning champions, despite the injury being judged a four-to-six-week one after a scan last week.
Elliot's return is one of four changes to the Chiefs' starting XV to take on South Africa's Cheetahs in their first home game of the season.
"We were scrummaging last week and I just felt it go," Elliot said yesterday.
"I thought I'd torn a big part of my calf - the MRI scans came back and they said four to six - but I'm here playing this week."
Elliot admits he was "pretty dark" last week when he thought the first part of his season had been wiped out just when he was in the best shape of his career, having come back from the Maori All Blacks and then All Blacks' end-of-year tours and boxed in the Fight for Life.
But he feels it was that condition and the hard work put in to achieve it that sped the healing.
"I've worked hard in the off-season and I think the boxing really helped, as it was a different kind of fitness to what I'm used to.
"I've come back five or six kilos lighter than I was last year, I'm running pbs in my fitness testing and stuff like that, so that can only help my game.
"I think my muscles are just shocked at where my cardiovascular is taking my body at the moment," he said.
Elliot came through full participation in the final major team training run of the week yesterday without a twinge and admitted that had eased his mind.
"Before that session I was a bit iffy about going into it, but to get through that was a huge thing for me."
Rennie said Elliot's return to full fitness this week had been "amazing" as they had originally been targeting next week's South African tour.
"He went well late Tuesday, had another session yesterday and today he's good to go," Rennie said.
"He's in really good nick, he's leaner than he's been for a long time and he's a hell of a lot fitter and sharper, with a lot of confidence and doing his job really well, so it's great that he gets a chance this week after missing out last week."
The other changes to the XV see Mike Fitzgerald get a start at lock ahead of co-captain Craig Clarke, Augustine Pulu named at halfback to replace Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Lelia Masaga returning on the wing instead of Patrick Osborne - all a case of players deservedly getting their chance, according to Rennie.
Elliot was full of praise for how well 20-year-old rookie Rhys Marshall had played for 80 minutes on debut in both his and Schwalger's absence against the Highlanders, saying it was a tribute to the help he had got from the other tight forwards around him and the unity of the squad that enabled new players to slip seamlessly into the starting lineup.
Elliot is looking forward to taking on Springboks' incumbent No 2, Adriaan Strauss, tomorrow.
"I think if I can really get this forward pack going and be a leader up front we can really dominate our set-piece," he said.
HOW THEY LINE UP
Chiefs: Gareth Anscombe, Lelia Masaga, Tim Nanai-Williams, Bundee Aki, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden, Augustine Pulu, Fritz Lee, Sam Cane, Liam Messam (c), Brodie Retallick, Michael Fitzgerald, Ben Afeaki, Hika Elliot, Pauliasi Manu. Res: Rhys Marshall, Ben Tameifuna, Craig Clarke, Tanerau Latimer, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Charlie Ngatai, Patrick Osborne.